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Cautiously Optimistic: Waukee Schools Keeping COVID-19 Positivity Rate Below One Percent Almost One Month In

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WAUKEE, Iowa — Many school districts are almost a month into this unprecedented school year. Districts are having to quarantine some students and staff because of COVID-19, but overall, many are calling it a success so far.

That’s definitely the case for the Waukee Community School District. Their county, Dallas, is currently seeing an 11 percent positivity rate. That’s just four percent away from the 15 percent threshold set by Governor Kim Reynolds to qualify for an online learning waiver. However, the school district’s COVID-19 rates are not reflective of the county statistics, in fact, there is a vast difference.

Out of 9,217 in-person learning students, only four are currently testing positive, and just five of their 1,800 staff members are currently COVID-19 positive. In total, that’s a positivity rate of just .08 percent. These are based on numbers updated on the district’s website on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

“One of the things I’ve been incredibly impressed by, with our staff and our students, is they’re taking our mitigation efforts very seriously,” Waukee Community School District Superintendent Dr. Brad Buck said. “So when I’m in schools I see masks on all the kids. I know teachers are cleaning desks near the end of each class period. We’re maintaining physical distancing to the extent possible. So I think people have taken that very seriously and continued to do so. Part of that, I think, is they’re just happy to be back.”

Almost 80 percent of Waukee families chose in-person learning this Fall. Out of those students, the Warriors have consistently been under 1 percent positivity rate so far this school year.

“One of the things that happened, and this is sort of a byproduct of the move to having online families and in-person families, our class sizes generally in-person are a little bit smaller than they typically would be in a school year,” Dr. Buck said. “Unfortunately, that makes our online sections a little bit larger, but what that has done for us is in-person, our ability to physically distance kids is really in pretty good shape.”

Right now, Waukee has 179 students and staff quarantined. Superintendent Dr. Buck says the quarantine process is encouraging though because they aren’t seeing spreading within the school buildings.

“We don’t have evidence yet of an existing COVID-19 case emerging from an existing COVID-19 case. So we’ve had COVID-19 cases, people have gone into quarantine, but we haven’t had people then continue into isolation from that. Now that doesn’t mean that couldn’t happen at any time, but we really do feel like our mitigation efforts are effective,” Dr. Buck said.

Waukee is using many of the same mitigation strategies as other school districts around the metro. Dr. Buck said their early school year success has just as much to do with what they are doing inside the classroom as it has to do with what families are doing at home.

“I think our parents, generally speaking, and our staff members for sure are working hard when they’re outside of the school day to follow a lot of these same strategies as well. I know for our family, we live differently than we lived before the pandemic. So to the extent people are doing that, I think it also helps us here,” Dr. Buck said.

Dr. Buck said he’s cautious to call this start to the school year a complete success. While he is happy with their mitigation efforts, he knows it could all change at any time which is why they need to continue to take the steps to be safe. He also said there have been some bumps in the road for online-learners.

“I think we’ve had a great start. There’s a lot of things that could have gone sort of awry and I don’t think they have. At the same time, we put 12,000 devices in a learning management system,” Dr. Buck said. “We wouldn’t have done all of that to start of the school year. Typically, we have built that over time. So there have been things that have been uneven. And that’s one of my favorite words as we think about this process because there’s been lots of good stuff and there’s been a few on anticipated things, but our community has rallied.”

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