Financial relief announced for districts affected by pandemic
DES MOINES — School districts across Iowa will soon be receiving money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, to address some of the costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That announcement came at the Tuesday press conference of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“Throughout this pandemic, Iowa has benefited from federal funding to assist with a variety of critical needs. The latest is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, to help schools contain unanticipated expenses that have resulted from their response efforts,” Reynolds said.
Dr. Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, addressed the challenges for schools.
“Spring has brought some unexpected challenges, but I have learned that no challenge is too great for the administrators, teachers and staff who work in our schools,” Lebo said. “In a short turnaround and with little time to prepare, they have engaged with students and families while simultaneously working to navigate this new learning environment we find ourselves in.”
Supporting equitable access to instruction for all students, purchasing educational technology, getting devices and WiFi hotspots to students who need them, and providing professional development opportunities for educators and staff as they adjust to this sudden shift, all comes at a cost to our schools, she continued.
“Now we have financial relief to help. Iowa has received over $71.6 million in federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, to help our schools to address some of the costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lebo said.
“My team has been hard at work to develop an application process so that we can quickly and efficiently get these critical funds to our schools.”
She also announced schools could begin accessing the application today (Tuesday) through the Consolidated Accountability and Support application or CASA System.
“They have until the close of business on Monday, May 11, to complete the application, and we have a virtual meeting today at 1 p.m. (Tuesday) to discuss this process in more detail with school leaders,” Lebo said.
Ninety percent of the $71.6 million will go directly to school districts, which will use a portion of the funds to provide services to non-public schools in their areas.
The remaining funds will be used for state level educational efforts to address urgent issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lebo said everyone of Iowa’s 327 school districts will receive an allocation of these funds to address COVID-19 related needs at their schools, including online learning support, professional development, educational technology, mental health services, and services to support students with disabilities.
The list of allocations by school district and the allowable spending categories are available on the Iowa Department of Education’s COVID-19 webpage.
“Districts can expect to receive their allocations on May 13. The spending window is retroactive going back to March 13, 2020. Districts have to use the funds by Sept. 30, 2022,” Lebo said.
Also on Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health released names of outbreak status at meat processing and manufacturing facilities, Reynolds said.
“As you know, we are working closely with manufacturing facilities across the state, to conduct the diagnostic and serology testing of employees to protect the essential workforce and keep critical business infrastructure operating,” Reynolds said. “The Department of Public Health has been compiling data from those surveillance initiatives to be able to report outbreak status at facilities.”
IDPH Deputy Director Sara Reisetter said, “Dr. Caitlin Pedati (Iowa State Medical Director and Epidemiologist with the IDPH) has determined that it is necessary to protect the public health to release the name of an employer when there has been an outbreak which is defined as 10 percent absenteeism or 10 percent of the workforce has a confirmed case or identified as a close contact in the single location of an employment setting which constitutes a high risk environment for the potential of COVID transmission.
“Such as a congregate setting in which social distancing is impossible or impractical, including but not limited to meat packing plants, food and beverage processing plants, factories with production lines and warehouses,” Reisetter continued.
At this time, the IDH has confirmed outbreaks meeting this definition in the following facilities:
• The Tyson plant in Columbus Junction, where there are identified 221 positive cases, that representing 26 percent of the employees tested.
• Iowa Premium National Beef in Tama, with identified 258 positive cases representing was 39 percent of the employees tested.
• Tyson plant in Waterloo, with identified 444 positive cases, representing 17 percent of the employees tested.
• Tyson plant in Perry, with 730 positive cases, representing 58 percent of the employees tested.
• TPI Composites in Newton, which has 131 positive cases, representing 13 percent of its employees tested.
“We really do appreciate these employers working with the Department of Public Health to offer testing to their employees. Identification and isolation of ill employees helps prevent the spread of the virus within the community,” Reisetter said.
Reisetter was later asked why the threshold was set at 10 percent, as that number could, for larger employers, mean hundreds of employees positive before a report was made.
Reisetter explained, “The 10 percent is what we use during the flu season. It is a consistent standard we apply,” she said.
For example, the state asks schools to report when 10 percent of their students are absent on any given day, which usually applies to each building in the district.
Reynolds said her team looks at the numbers daily to look for trends and virus activity in areas, counties and communities.
Reynolds also confirmed that she will be traveling to the White House this week to talk about what Iowa is doing as far as testing and working with processing plants in the fight against COVID-19.
Numbers reported Tuesday include:
• 408 new positive cases, for total of 10,111, with 80 percent of those positive cases in the 22 counties under tight restrictions. Of the 408 new positives, 261 of those were in Polk and Woodbury counties.
• 3,000 new negative cases, for a total of 60,569 people tested; representing 1 in every 52 Iowans has been tested.
• 3,572 recovered, for a 35 percent recovery rate.
• 19 deaths, for a total of 207. Fifty-six percent represent those from long-term care facilities.