Cambridge school administrators will recommend to the school board Thursday night that elementary students return to school in-person this fall, while middle and high school students begin the year virtually.

Superintendent Bernie Nikolay released the administrative team’s recommendation document to the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent in advance of a school board listening session scheduled for Thursday night.

The recommendation includes a phased plan to start reintroducing students who begin learning virtually to school buildings in mid-September.

Nikolay will present the recommendation to the school board at the public listening session at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Cambridge High School small gym.

The public can also access the listening session via video conference.

For a link to join the online meeting, contact the school district office at (608) 423-4245. 

The board could make a decision on fall instruction on Thursday night. Nikolay said he expects a decision this week.

Elementary students

In their recommendation, administrators envision that students from early childhood through fifth-grade would return in-person at the start of the school year.

Students would be spread out between Cambridge Elementary School and the Nikolay Middle School buildings, the plan said, to increase social distancing. Children in early childhood, kindergarten, first, second and third grade would attend the elementary school. Fourth and fifth-graders would go to the middle school, the plan said.

Masks would be required for all students and staff.

The district would offer virtual learning to any student -- elementary, middle or high school – whose families don’t feel comfortable having them learn in-person, administrators said.

Administrators said they have been drawing on public health guidance from both Dane and Jefferson counties. The Cambridge School District spans two different counties. The elementary and middle school buildings are located in Dane County, and the high school building is in Jefferson County.

Public Health Madison & Dane County, for instance, currently has a county-wide order, issued July 7, requiring masks be worn indoors.

Early childhood and 4K children may be asked to wear masks, depending on classroom expectations, administrators said. Students may also have mask breaks throughout the day.

Administrators said bringing younger students back to school would alleviate childcare concerns for families, allowing parents to work outside the home and support students' mental health.

“This plan allows for social-emotional learning and peer interactions to continue in the most ‘normal’ way possible for approximately half of our CSD students,” the report said.

Administrators noted Centers for Disease Control guidance that children through age nine transmit the virus less efficiently than children ages 10-19.

Midde and high school students

Administrators hope to gradually bring students in grades 6 through 12 back into school buildings this fall.

The plan sets out a tentative schedule for that phase-in process. Administrators envision:

● Sixth and ninth-graders would return by Sept. 21, at which time fourth-graders would move back to CES. A decision on this would be made by Sept. 14

● Seventh and tenth-graders would return by Sept. 28, at which time fifth-graders would move back to CES. A decision would be made by Sept. 21

● Eleventh and twelfth-graders would return by Oct. 12. A decision would made by Oct. 5

That timeline, administrators said, could change. Administrators included in their recommendation that they are watching for guidelines from Dane and Jefferson County public health departments on phasing students back in-person.

Until they return to school buildings, students in grades 6-12 would use district-issued Chromebooks to learn virtually.

Administrators said they hope to include more synchronous learning for middle and high school students, doing activities at coordinated times, than last spring.

“This means that middle and high school students will actually follow their daily schedule - just as if they were in-person in school,” the report said.

Teachers would also return to scaled grading, instead of the pass/fail grading system used last spring.

The recommendation also says cohorts of students would come into school in-person in limited capacities, for individualized academic help, English language learning or special education services or specific classes like art.

The plan said meals would continue to be provided for all students, including virtual learners, and transportation would be offered in a limited capacity for in-person students.

Administrators said in the report that virtual learning seemed to fit older students better, given the reduced need for childcare and available access to technology.

“Developmentally, middle and high school students are better equipped to manage the online learning environment,” the plan said.

Virtual learning

The district would divide instructional responsibilities between teachers, the plan said, some instructing students virtually, and some teaching in-person classes. Teachers would all be expected to teach from school buildings, even if they were teaching virtual classes.

Virtual student groups may include students of multiple grades, the plan said.

In order to decide how many teachers are needed to teach virtually, and the number of teachers instructing in-person, students will need to sign up before the school year for their mode of instruction, administrators said. Families can change from in-person to virtual learning, or vice versa, at four-week increments, the plan said.

Administrators also recommended more synchronous learning this fall, meaning students would log on for lessons or activities at a set time. These activities could possibly align with in-person classroom activities and allow students to interact with their peers learning in-person, the plan said.

Koshkonong Trails

Koshkonong Trails Charter School, a project-based charter school housed at the Severson Learning Center, will make its own plans for fall, working with its governance board, administrators said. The report called in-person learning at Koshkonong Trails “possible and probable,” given the structure and small size of the school.

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