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GOING VIRAL: Debate Surrounding Safety in Sioux City Community Schools



The debate continues on K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa’s Governor wants to keep students in class.  A recent survey teachers in the Sioux City Community School district showed only 10% wanted to continue with in-person learning.  Siouxland Public Media’s Sheila Brummer explores the issue with a couple of long-time educator, union leader and school administrator.

Credit Bernie Scolaro
Bernie Scolaro

Bernie Scolaro, a school counselor at West High School in Sioux City, caught COVID-19 in early November.  She spent three weeks at home recovering from the illness, as she also suffers from asthma. 

You can still hear the illness in her breath.

“I feel better.  But, I still have a little bit of a cough.”

Scolaro, who is in her early 60s, isn’t sure exactly how she caught the virus, either from school or a neighbor who tested positive.

“I did lunch duty and interacted with new students from out of state.”

Scolaro says the school district is doing everything possible to try and keep students and staff safe, but admits it doesn’t always work.

“They have required masks from the get-go.  We started out with hybrid learning to try to social distance students in the classroom. In the hallway they have one-way arrows too.  It’s impossible to enforce.  It’s tough for teachers to social distance students and spread apart the desks.”   

Credit Lesa Banks
Lesa Banks

That’s the same sentiment shared by Lisa Banks, another long-time teacher and union leader. 

“The major eight school districts (In Iowa) are one of those things, either hybrid or virtual.”

Banks, is a board member for Siouxland Uniserve and works as a liaison between the local teachers and the Iowa State Education Association.

“We don’t want to go hybrid or virtual either, because that’s not easy for us either.  But, we want to be safe, we want out students to be safe and we want our community to be safe.”

“I just wish if you want you’re students in school you would stay home.  Stop shopping for the fun of it.  Just do things that are necessary.”

Banks says dealing with COVID-19 is just like playing Russian Roulette.

“We sit around and look at each other and wonder who is going to get it next, there is no rhyme or reason.”

“Every teacher is working as hard as they possible can and we’re already exhausted and it’s not even the end of the semester yet.  I can only image what February is going to be like for us.”

“I’m not saying that we need to do anything different as hybrid or full-on.  But, we need address the issue of safety and proper PPE.”

Credit Sioux City Community Schools
Dr. Kim Buryanek

Another voice who believes safety is the top priority for the Sioux City School District is Assistant Superintendent of the Sioux City Community School District, Dr. Kim Buraynek.

“We are watching the various metrics and the cases and trying to make the best decisions we can.”

“This has been very difficult of course for parents, administrators and teachers and student.”

She say so far the district hasn’t seen a spike in new cases of COVID-19.  The most recent update showed five students and three staff two tested positive the week after Thanksgiving. 

Dr. Buraynek says absentee rates will be released at the next school board meeting.

“When we contact trace it is usually a case where they contracted it someone else other than school and when they are sent home contact tracing shows there are very few testing positive.”

Dr. Buraynek says absentee rates will be released at the next school board meeting.

“I appreciate the parents when their kids are sick they are keeping them at home just taking every precaution they can.”

“It’s been a stressful year and I can’t wait the vaccine to come out sooner rather than later.”

The past few weeks have been especially stressful for Bernie Scolaro, both in and out of the classroom.  She recovered from COVID-19, but her neighbor did not.

“He spent time in the hospital on a ventilated and couldn’t make it.”

The next school board meeting is Monday.  Families can chose virtual learning for students.  The Sioux City Community School District says approximately 1,800 are virtual learners out of around 15,000 students.  That is 12% of the student body.

About Bernie Scolaro: Besides a school counseler at West High School in Sioux City, she is the Past President of the Sioux City Education Association (2018-2020) and the current Vice President of the Siouxland Uniserv Unit.

Lesa Banks is a native of Westfield, IA and has been a teacher since 1992. She earned her bachelor degree in Art and Education in 1992 from Briar Cliff;  a Masters in Selective Studies from USD in 1997; and a masters in Talented and Gifted from UNT in 2002.

Dr. Kim Buryanek is Associate Superintendent of the Sioux City Community School District. Dr. Buryanek joined our District in 2012 as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment; and she has 25 years of educational experience in three states. She started her career as a high school English teacher before becoming an assistant high school principal, and high school principal. Prior to joining our District, Dr. Buryanek was the 6-12 principal for the West Sioux Community School District.

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