Deerfield families turned out in droves to recent start-of-school-year conferences, that were offered in-person, over the phone and virtually.

Of the eight grade levels at Deerfield Elementary School, six saw 100 percent participation by families in Ready-Set-Go conferences held Sept. 1-4, DES Principal Melinda Kamrath told the school board on Sept. 14.

The other two grade levels were short just one family, and those later made arrangements for alternate conference times, Kamrath said.

Kamrath said families also “overwhelmingly” chose to attend conference in-person, rather than virtually or by phone.

School began virtually for all Deerfield students on Sept. 8.

Kamrath said the conferences “went really, really smooth.”

“Everyone followed all the rules and protocols,” she said. “Families wre just really excited to get back to school.”

Deerfield Middle High School Principal Brett Jacobson, meanwhile, told the school board that about 94 percent of families participated in its Ready-Set-Go conferences. About half ochose virtual, and half chose in-person conferences, he said. The school has since “gotten a lot of positive feedback,” on the conferences, he said. “We were happy to see that,” he said.

Return to school

Superintendent Michelle Jensen updated the board on recent conversations between area superintendents and Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Jensen said area superintendents are concerned that in the wake of a Sept. 10 state Supreme Court ruling that suspended Public Health Madison & Dane County authority to open and close schools based on local coronavirus metics, and in the midst of a recent spike in cases at UW-Madison that is skewing countywide metrics, that they don’t have a clear roadmap for reopening schools.

Jensen said while local superintendents understand the need to include UW-Madison in the countywide metrics, they have said it might be helpful to have a second, parallel set of metrics for use by local school districts in reopening decision making, that exclude the university.

Jensen said she is paying attention to public health metrics that are specific to the local U.S. Census track for Deerfield, which have continued to rise. “I would like to continue to watch this carefully,” she said.

The Deerfield School District has said it is committed to keep all students virtually through early November, other than some special education students who have come back in-person in recent weeks.

Jensen said some other area school districts are now discussing reopening their buildings in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Jensen said she is concerned about opening up too quickly, and then having to shut back down.

Racial equity

The Deerfield School Board also on Sept. 14 continued to talk about racial equity.

Jensen shared two videos with the school board about white privilege. And she shared an article on the same topic, which the board spent some time discussing.

The discussion touched a host of things including: the difference between racism and bias; different definitions of “normal,” through the eyes of white Americans and those of color; how factors like a lack of affordable housing might be limiting families of color from moving to Deerfield; the need to really hear what students and families of color have to say; the need to speak up in situations of racial injustice; and the need to examine curriculum materials for bias.

Jensen said it’s okay that talking about racial equality is uncomfortable.

“That’s where we start,” to change, she said. “This is not meant to be a comfortable conversation.”

Jensen said the board’s next step, in October, may be to talk about racially insensitive language in literature curriculum and also how to respond to the use of racially derogatory language on school grounds.

Policy changes

The school board will consider a policy change at its Sept. 21 meeting that would prohibit students from wearing racially offensive clothing on school grounds. Jensen said there is a fine line to be trod, in not violating students’ constitutional right to free expression.

“Students don’t lose their freedom of speech when they walk in the door…but don’t have the right to disrupt someone else’s education,” she said.

The board will also consider a policy change on Sept. 21 that would prohibit the flying of drones over school property. And on Sept. 21 it will consider a policy change requiring student attendance while classes are virtual.

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