POLK COUNTY — The first day for Central and Dallas school districts have been moved due to closures from poor air quality due to the wildfires that swept through the region last week, and continue to push heavy smoke into Polk County.
Central’s start date moved to Sept. 17, while Dallas shifted it first day of comprehensive distance learning a week to Sept. 28.
Superintendent Jennifer Kubista sent an email to families Thursday night thanking them and staff for their continued flexibility.
Schools buildings were closed Thursday because of ash and smoke in the air.
“We are continuing to monitor the air, smoke and ash to assess if we can turn our HVAC systems back on,” Kubista said. “Virtual orientation meetings scheduled for Friday will continue as planned.”
In-person orientations for families without internet access were not possible because smoke and ash.
“We know it is important to build relationships between our students, families and staff, as we continue to partner together for the 2020-21 school year,” Kubista said. “We will use Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to complete orientations and push the official first day of school to Thursday, Sept. 17.”
Families that had in-person orientations scheduled, should expect communication from a teacher to reschedule.
“Families that have let us know they have no internet, we are continuing to build and working to get access to your homes,” Kubista said. “More information will continue to be shared as we head into next week.”
Dallas closed its campus Thursday, Friday and Monday. Superintendent Andy Bellando said staff needs recoup those days in preparation to roll out distance learning. Bellando said the HVAC systems could not be turned on due to heavy smoke, delaying school start planning.
“(Facilities Director) Bob Archer and the staff have done an incredible job of keeping the building clean and ready to roll, but we haven’t been about to turn on the switches to circulate the air and that can be challenging,” Bellando said. “Bob’s prepared as soon as possible to get those things fired up and get going for the safety and well-being of everyone in our buildings.”
Bellando said the board could delay the start of school just three days, until Sept. 24, but that would mean starting school on a Thursday, and that could be difficult, especially with the new distance learning system.
“There could be some challenges trying to really roll out our comprehensive distance learning efforts with two days left in the week,” he said. “As much time as possible we can provide to our teachers, so they’re fully ready to begin the school year, the better for them.”
The board agreed to delay school the full week. Board member Mike Blanchard, who has advocated for a later start to school to give students more in-person classes, voted against the new schedule.
“I think the full week is good, but I think we should push it back a couple for weeks to be consistent with my last vote,” Blanchard said.
“Well, you might end up being right,” said Jon Woods Jr, the board chairman.
“I hope not,” Blanchard said in response.
Bellando said teachers will be using the time between now and the start of school to get in touch with students and provide them with the needed devices for distance learning.
“We will definitely using the time for the remainder of this week and all of next week for contacting students, contacting each family and making certain, frankly, that we have not only devise distribution fully completed, but that we are able to have more connectivity for our students,” Bellando said. “We are going to be rolling out our hot spot devices once we begin our distribution of tablet devices.”
Kubista said she been impressed with how students, staff and parents are handling the unprecedented circumstances that have marked the beginning of the school year.
“What I have learned and continue to learn is that our students, staff and community continue to be resilient and adapt in these unprecedented times,” Kubista said. “Please continue to partner with us, give yourself, each other and us grace as we are CSD 13J strong! We will continue to get through this and begin school in a positive and successful way!”
Kubista encouraged families to watch their emails, voicemails and the district Facebook page for more updates.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 503-606-2251 with any concerns or questions.