AVOCA — Avoca-Hancock-Shelby-Tennant-Walnut (AHSTW) students will be off today and will go to 100 percent virtual learning on Tuesday due to high rates of absenteeism, and positive and primary exposure cases of COVID-19 in the district.

In a letter to parents and the community, officials said that over the past two weeks in the primary, intermediate and high school levels, current rates of absenteeism are much higher than the average. For example, among primary classes, the average absenteeism is 5 percent, but the current rate is at 12 percent. Intermediate and high school rates are up even more. Intermediate classes have an average absenteeism rate of 6 percent but have a current average rate over 25 percent. High school classes had an average absentee rate of 7 percent but a current average rate of 29 percent.

Pottawattamie County had 2,141 individuals found positive for COVID-19 according to the Iowa COVID-19 dashboard, a positive rate of 10.1 percent. Other counties in the school district were Harrison with a positive rate of 10.6 percent, Cass at 9.5 percent and Shelby at 8 percent. Pottawattamie County has had 39 COVID-19 related deaths.

Administrators said, “Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 29, our district will transition to our Continuous Learning Model, with all of our students learning in a 100 percent virtual format. At this time we have the local authority to remain in the Continuous format until Friday, Oct. 2, and we will do so.” They said additional updates would be coming out in the future.

AHSTW board members approved an application to the Iowa Department of Education on Saturday in a special meeting asking for the authority to extend Continuous Learning past Oct. 2, if that was necessary.

The letter also spells out some “important points” for parents and students.

Materials and devices can be picked up on Monday and staff will be contacting families regarding class and individual schedules, and expectations for virtual learning through Oct. 2.

The school lunch program will remain in service, beginning on Tuesday and information on menus and pick up was expected to be released Monday.

Families without access to the internet for virtual learning were encouraged to all the office or email Ryan Smith.

The letter also said there would be no activities, practices or events held during the week, and through Oct. 4.

“As we have experienced for the past month, teaching and in-person learning is what is best for everyone. Our hope is that with extra caution and attention to Public Health and CDC guidelines, we will be able to return to that as quickly as possible,” administration said.

Families were encouraged to wear masks anywhere and everywhere they come in contact with others. They were asked to avoid gatherings with anyone outside of their immediate household for any length of time, for any reason. They were also asked to keep kids at home. “If we continue to follow all of the guidance and safety measures within the school, but then those same practices are not followed outside of school, all of our efforts will be for naught. We are definitely #BetterTogether.”d

The district would have celebrated Homecoming on Oct. 2 against Riverside Community Schools, but that game has been cancelled, along with all other sports events during the week. Events scheduled starting Monday, Oct. 5 are not cancelled at this time. The board hoped to find a time to celebrate homecoming at another time.