Looking back at Ottumwa School’s COVID-19 Academic Year

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 9:16 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - This time last year, school districts nationwide were having to make a difficult decision: how to bring students back safely to school, if at all. Last July, KYOU interviewed Ottumwa Schools’ Superintendent Mike McGrory, who was weighing the options of bringing students back to school. He’d divided it into three options: back fully face to face with masks, a hybrid plan with a staggered schedule, or full virtual.

The school went with the first option - bringing students back in person, though with the option of Bulldog Virtual Learning for students who didn’t feel comfortable coming back.

Mike Stiemsma, the student support staff who ended up advising the district on COVID-19 decisions, says going face to face was what people wanted. “A lot of people felt strongly that we needed to have kids in school.” A representative from the ISEA and parents convinced the school board to go with in-person learning for the year.

But it was still far from a normal year. Masks, social distancing, and heightened sanitation methods reinforced that change. However, Stiemsma says their rigidity on CDC guidance helped them keep track of positive COVID tests throughout the year. “We felt that our numbers were pretty low. And that what we were doing was working to keep kids and staff as safe as possible.”

But right before Thanksgiving, Evans Middle School was forced to go completely virtual, as the amount of faculty in quarantine made in-person teaching unfeasible. However, Stiemsma boasts that was the only time they were forced to go virtual. They were in person throughout the rest of the school year.

And into 2021, as CDC guidance changed, quarantines became less and less severe and far-reaching. Stiemsma says each change was “a huge change for us.”

Then came vaccines. Around two-thirds of faculty and staff received a vaccine through the district. That number continued to grow throughout Spring into the end of the year.

And finally, right at the end, the Governor mandated school districts drop their masks policy. Students and faculty went to school without masks for the first time since March of 2020.

Starting at the beginning of the pandemic, Stiemsma admits they were worried because they didn’t know what would happen. “We didn’t know how this would play out. If COVID’s taught us one thing , it’s to be adaptable and to make adjustments. And we had to make a lot of adjustments.”

And now, onto a new school year free of masks, many faculty and students vaccinated, back to a state of normal.

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