All Deerfield students will continue to learn virtually through the second quarter of the school year, with plans to bring younger students back to school buildings in a limited capacity.
The Deerfield School Board voted on Oct. 19 to continue virtual learning until Jan. 25 for all students.
The school district might consider bringing students gradually back sometime during the second quarter, if metrics and public health guidance allow, board member Lisa Sigurslid clarified.
Superintendent Michelle Jensen said Deerfield is committed to following Dane County public health guidelines, which currently recommend keeping grades 3-12 virtual.
“We should follow the public health guidelines,” Jensen said.
However, public health officials have said it’s safe to allow students in grades 4K-2 to return to school buildings in small groups, if wearing masks and socially distancing.
That’s why, Jensen said, administrators are looking to bring those youngest students back to school for weekly supplemental time.
“What would it look like if we gradually had some students (return) in very small groups?” Jensen asked.
Jensen said this plan, called Virtual Plus, will be optional, and offered to families as virtual learning continues.
Virtual Plus would run for two-hour periods in the afternoon and would give students in-person support, Jensen said, reintroduce them gradually to school buildings and allow them to see friends.
4K students would attend one day a week, with maximum class sizes of five to seven students. Kindergarten, first and second-graders would attend two days a week, either Monday and Tuesday, or Wednesday and Thursday, with class sizes of six to nine students.
Jensen called the program “the best of both worlds,” and said it could start in November.
Regardless of whether students attend Virtual Plus or not, Jensen said all students in grades 4K-2 will continue to receive the same academic lessons through virtual learning.
Jensen said she’s working with teachers to condense all live instruction for students in grades 4K-2, to run from 8:15-11:30 a.m., before a lunch break.
That way, Jensen said students who are participating in Virtual Plus won’t miss any live lessons, and students not participating can finish their independent work for the last hour of school.
Jensen said she’s heard from other superintendents in Dane County, that are open for 4K-2, that keeping students safe requires small controlled groups, social distancing and masks.
Jensen said the district does plan on busing Virtual Plus students and is in early talks with its bus company.
The School Board, on Oct. 19, also voted to temporarily amend its busing policy due to Covid-19, which would allow it to provide transportation to students who live less than a mile away from school, including for the Virtual Plus program.
Student Support Hubs
Deerfield has already been bringing student groups back to school in-person for one-on-one or small group work.
Jensen said in mid-September, the school district began inviting students with individualized education plans back to school to allow one-on-one work with special education teachers.
And Deerfield High School has started offering two-hour socially-distanced study halls, called “student support hubs,” Jensen said.
Deerfield Middle-High School principal Brett Jacobson said high school students are allowed to sign up for study hall times on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Jensen said students might also have individual conferences with teachers, read together, do some fun extra activities or finish independent work from their morning classes.
Students sit at one of twenty six-foot-long tables in the small gym, and work on homework for one or two-hour blocks.
Tables are spaced 12 feet apart, students wear masks and enter and leave through designated doors, Jensen and Jacobson said.
The study halls are supervised by high school teachers. The goal, Jacobson said, is to give students a quiet place to get their homework done. The support hubs also get students back into school buildings, giving them face-to-face time with staff members.
The support hubs began Oct. 12, and Jacobson said they’ve gone well so far.
Jensen said administrators surveyed families about their first quarter experience with virtual learning, and asked whether they would be comfortable sending their students back to school in-person.
Jensen said that about two-thirds of families with students in grades 4K-2 said they would be comfortable with their child visiting school buildings.
Jensen added that the number of families that said on the survey they were comfortable with their older students returning to school in-person was fewer than expected.