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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.

Sincerely,
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.

Sincerely,
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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