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Contact Tracing Update (January 21, 2022)

On Wednesday, the Dubuque County Board of Health voted to support a proposal from the Dubuque County Public Health Incident Management Team to suspend contact tracing efforts for positive COVID-19 cases.

By Iowa Code, the Dubuque Community School District cannot engage in contact tracing and investigation without the involvement of a public health agency. Currently, the district contact traces as an extension of the Dubuque County Health Department / Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and, as such, will also suspend contact tracing in schools.

The district’s protocols for those who test positive for COVID-19 or those with symptoms of illness have not changed.

In place of contact-tracing efforts, the Dubuque Incident Management Team will increase promotion of quarantine and isolation guidance as well as the Dubuque County COVID-19 “hotline” for questions and support.

The team’s recommendation follows recent decisions by other Iowa counties to suspend contact tracing, including Linn County and Johnson County, and is based on the increased level of community spread of COVID and the increased difficulty in reaching positive individuals.

Additional reasons cited by the incident management team include:

  • A delay in information sharing and reporting by state public health with local public health which prevents contact during the first 24-48 hours after diagnosis, the most critical period for spread.
  • An increasing percentage of contact tracing calls to residents by Dubuque County Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) staff that go unanswered.
  • New testing options like rapid at-home tests that are reducing the number of positive cases reported to public health, preventing contact tracing with these individuals.

The district, and schools throughout Dubuque County, are also experiencing these issues and support the change.

Updated CDC COVID-19 Isolation Guidance (January 7, 2022)

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance that reduces the isolation period for someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

The Dubuque County Health Department, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the CDC are all in alignment regarding this guidance and beginning Monday, Jan. 10, the guidance allows individuals to return after 5 days as follows:

Based on guidance from the CDC, IDPH and Dubuque County Health Department, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be instructed to self-isolate for at least 5 calendar days following the onset of symptoms OR 5 calendar days following the date the positive test was administered if the individual is asymptomatic. (Day 0 is the first day of symptoms or the date the positive test was administered if asymptomatic.)

Individuals may return to school after the 5 calendar days if ALL THREE of the following are true:

  • The individual’s symptoms are resolving or the individual continues to have no symptoms if asymptomatic
  • The individual continues to wear a mask around others for an additional 5 calendar days
  • The individual is fever free for 24 hours (one full day) without fever-reducing medication.

If all three of the requirements above are not met, an individual needs to isolate for the full 10 calendar days.

The guidance above will be provided to individuals who test positive for COVID-19 when they are contacted by the Dubuque County Health Department/Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) for contact tracing.

During the contact tracing process, the VNA will also give guidance for identified unvaccinated, household close contacts that their quarantine period will also be 5 calendar days with wearing a mask around others for an additional 5 calendar days.

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Mask Update: October 11, 2021

Tonight, at the October 11 Board of Education meeting, the Board voted to use the district’s COVID-19 dashboard data to determine mask requirements on a per building basis beginning Monday, Oct. 18.

The following criteria will be used to determine if/when masks are required on a per building basis:

The district will enact a temporary mask requirement for employees, students and visitors in any district building that reaches 3.0% or higher of active, positive cases of students/staff in that building. If enacted, it will remain in effect until the percent of active, positive cases lowers below 3.0%.

There will be exemptions in place for medical, religious, brain health or other reasons at the discretion of the superintendent or designee.

This district monitors the percentage of student/staff active, positive cases on a daily basis and will communicate with a building if/when this temporary mask requirement is put in effect.

Currently, no district building exceeds 1.18% of active, positive cases.

Additional information will be available later this week regarding the process to apply for an exemption from this requirement.

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Mask Update: September 16, 2021

Dear Dubuque Schools Families and Staff,

Since the news was announced late Monday afternoon regarding federal court Judge Pratt issuing a temporary restraining order on Iowa’s law banning school districts from requiring the wearing of masks at school, our district team has been working on this issue.

We understand the issue of masks has become very polarizing in our community, state and nation and we want to make sure we move forward in a process-driven and transparent way. We have a responsibility as a district to take all factors into account in order to make decisions that are both in alignment with the law and in the best interests of our students and staff.

In the past 48+ hours, we have consulted with the district’s legal counsel and talked with many representatives from other school districts, our state association, and health officials. We have also received significant feedback from families and staff on both sides of this issue – and we want you to know that this feedback has been heard.

As we look at our direction moving forward, it is important to provide context on the laws public school districts are required to adhere to and Judge Pratt’s most recent court ruling:

  • As a public school district, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that students with disabilities are provided with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
  • In the latest federal court decision, Judge Pratt finds that disabled students’ civil rights under federal law are violated by the prohibition of mask mandates.
  • The ruling states this is because these students are denied an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from the school environment due to severe risk of illness.
  • Judge Pratt also states that requiring masks in schools constitutes a reasonable accommodation to allow disabled and immunocompromised students access to the school environment.

Following the judge’s decision, the district sought a legal opinion from both the district’s general counsel, as well as the district’s special education attorney.

Based on the court ruling, both attorneys independently concurred that by not having a mask mandate in place for all students, the district would be exposing itself to potential liability for discrimination and violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The district must now consider next steps given this latest ruling related to masks. In order to do so, the School Board will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, in the Hempstead High School Auditorium to consider the attorneys’ conclusion and take possible action. The meeting will be live streamed on the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages. View the meeting agenda.

We move forward knowing that there is a long-standing sense of pride in the Dubuque community and deep desire to put students first, despite varying opinions.

As we navigate these never-before-seen challenges, and recognizing that the requirements before us may continue to change and evolve, let’s move forward leading by example for our students and community – with respect, compassion and dignity.

Stan Rheingans
Superintendent of Schools

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Mask Update: September 13, 2021

Late this afternoon, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Iowa law that bans school districts from mandating masks.

As you can imagine, we have already received a significant amount of feedback on both sides of this issue.

We wanted you to know that we are working to gain additional clarity around the details of this restraining order and the legal process moving forward.

We will also be seeking guidance from our legal counsel and state associations as we discuss next steps, and we will share additional information with you as it becomes available.

Return-to-Learn Update: September 10, 2021

It is great to see our schools filled with excited learners as we wrap up the third week of the school year! We are starting to find the routines of the year and there are many great things happening across the district.

We continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation in both the district and the county – and encourage you to stay up-to-date with the latest data as the year progresses.

View the District COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated daily Monday-Friday and shows the number, school and grade level of active, positive COVID-19 cases in the district.

For county and state data, you can find up-to-date information from the following:

Our county data currently shows an increasing number of students age 0-17 who are testing positive for COVID-19.

Based on this increasing number, we encourage you to consider wearing a mask indoors at schools, especially in cases when social distancing and vaccination are not possible, in order to reduce spread of COVID-19.

We continue to maintain a number of additional mitigation protocols to help create the safest possible learning environment for students and staff.

We appreciate your ongoing support of our students and schools!

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Return-to-Learn Update: August 19, 2021

Dear Families and Staff,

As we welcome students back to our schools in upcoming days, we will begin the third consecutive school year that has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, as was reported in the Telegraph Herald, we continue to see COVID-19 cases in Dubuque county increase at a rate that is concerning to our area’s public health officials and infectious disease experts.

The number of positive cases in Dubuque County has increased over the past several weeks, primarily made up of the more highly contagious Delta variant. Local experts warn that the data indicates that our community may be on track to see the same significant impact that has been seen in the other parts of the United States.

At the same time, there is some data that suggests that the impact of the Delta variant may not be long lasting and can see a reasonably quick decline after hitting its peak – so acting now to prevent its spike may be our key to having as little disruption to school operations as possible.

To help communicate the impact of COVID-19 in our schools, we will again have a COVID-19 dashboard to help families make informed decisions. We are currently working on the timing of the dashboard as we learn how and when data will be reported to us from the county/state, but expect it to be live sometime next week.

As we see our area data rise, we look back to the success of our COVID-19 mitigations efforts last year, which included the wearing of masks in school.

While by Iowa law masks cannot be required at school, I encourage families and staff to consider wearing a mask indoors to begin the school year in order to prevent the spread that we anticipate may be on the horizon based on the data.

While mask recommendations have changed over time, and will continue to change, based on current Dubuque data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Dubuque County Board of Health all currently recommend masking indoors in a school environment.

Our goal in this request is simple – to work together to keep students and staff in school.

Regardless of your choice or your family’s choice to wear a mask or not, we respect that choice and will support each of our students, families and staff in the choices they make.

As always, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and will adjust accordingly. Know that the health and safety of our students and staff is our priority and we are thankful for your support as we begin the school year.

Stan Rheingans
Superintendent of Schools

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Return-to-Learn: August 12, 2021

In just over a week, we will welcome students back for the 2021-2022 school year. We know that this is a time of both great excitement and anxiety as our community is still feeling the effects of COVID-19. Our goal remains to create a safe learning environment for students and staff, while also ensuring a high-quality, vibrant educational experience.

As we begin the year, there is a great deal of information available from a variety of sources regarding COVID-19 and its impact on our community.

Without consistent guidance from the federal, state and local level, it is impossible for the district to align with all guidance provided from each of these agencies.

Recognizing that guidance is inconsistent, we strongly recommend all families review the latest from each agency (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Iowa Department of Public Health) in order to make the most informed decision you can regarding personal mitigation efforts as we start the year.

Below is an update on the latest information available regarding COVID-19 in the Dubuque community and an overview of mitigation efforts that will be in place as we begin the school year.

We have worked to compile answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding mitigation efforts as we begin the year. While this message is lengthy, we ask that you please take the time to read it completely.
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