The Lake Mills Board of Education approved a school reopening plan Monday night, in a 3-2 vote with board members Rachael Davies and Dawn Delaney voting against the plan.
The plan was revealed to families last week with some of the recommendations including mask wearing by most students, teachers and staff, use of physical barriers in offices and small group areas, signage, increased hand washing and no sharing of school supplies, among others.
The goal of the district is to resume full-time face-to-face instruction for students.
“School districts in the state are in an almost impossible situation, really weighing the needs of the students and the families, but also knowing we have incredible staff who need to come in and teach our students as well,” said Dr. Tonya Olson, district administrator.
The district finished surveying families Monday about their feelings about reopening school.
“The survey represented about 1,000 children in our district,” Olson said. “With the results of that survey we have about 75% of our families asking for five day in person face to face instruction in the classroom.”
She said about 20% are asking for a virtual option and 5% are waiting for more information.
School districts in Dane and Milwaukee counties are starting virtual.
“We are challenged with the decision of what do we do with our students here in Lake Mills,” she said.
“I think the plan put forward by the administrative team is the best we can have under the bad circumstances we are in,” said Amy Litscher, director.
“It’s an impossible choice, but it’s a choice we have to make,” said Robert Dimperio, board president. “I think the goal here is not to eliminate risk because we can’t do that, but if we can mitigate and reduce it and be flexible.”
He said he understands all the concerns and needs of different parties.
“They are just in conflict no matter what we do,” he said.
Dominic Gisha of the Lake Mills Education Association asked the board to pause plans for in-person instruction and move to planning for an all virtual start to the school year.
“We believe virtual learning is the only viable option,” he said. “We believe in person instruction is the best model when we are not in the midst of a pandemic.”
He also commented several teachers in the district have said they will resign if in person learning goes forward.
The reopening plan includes food service, busing, personal protective equipment and more.
“We will be requiring face coverings for students and staff. It is one of the largest ways we can mitigate risk as we bring all of our students back to the classroom,” Olson said.
There will be some opportunities to remove face masks throughout the day.
The district is still working to develop the virtual learning atmosphere.
“We’re averaging about 20-25 students per grade level,” Olson said, according to the recent survey. “That’s very encouraging…it will help us build a very robust virtual learning program.”
Olson said they hope to have the plan completed by later this week, with more information available to families then.
The plan for Lake Mills schools includes guidance from the Department of Public Instruction, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State and Jefferson County Health Departments. As it reads now the plan includes a virtual option for those who can’t or don’t want to return to school. Plans will reflect a preference for face-to-face instruction in schools as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Instructional models will include blended and virtual options in the event that face-to-face instruction cannot occur.
Parents will have the choice to send students back to school in person five days a week or participate in a virtual learning model. There will be some flexibility to change from one instructional model to the other to accommodate students’ needs.
Virtual learning options will likely include a combination of live and recorded learning with required daily attendance and grading. Students will be expected to work during school hours, the plan says. JEDI, the district’s virtual charter school, will be used for high school classes. Students who participate in virtual classes will be able to take part in sports.
For students returning to the classroom; students will travel in a cohort model for grades kindergarten through eighth grade and classes at the high school will be less than 25 students. Face coverings will be required where contact is within 6 ft. Class schedules will be modified to allow for social distancing and students will remain in their cohort during recess times at the elementary school as well as eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom.
Other changes include: floor adhesives, safety signage, sanitation stations, no regular locker usage for middle and high school students, water bottle filling stations only, traffic patterns re-arraigned to avoid crowds, creating space for social distancing and isolation in the health room for possible COVID cases.
Lake Mills schools air exchange currently exceeds state recommendations, according to the plan. There will also be extra cleaning and disinfecting of bathrooms and common spaces, buses and in between high school classes.
Face coverings will be required for all staff and students when within 6 ft. Students with IEPs, 504 plans or medical conditions may be exempt.
Parents will be expected to screen their children for symptoms each day before school and staff will monitor students during the school day.
The final plan will include procedures in the event of a positive COVID case in the district and potential closures.
“What do we do if a student contracts COVID,” Olson asked. The district is looking to the Jefferson County Health Department for that guidance.
“We have to expect we could have a full closure at any time if for some reason there is community spread. We need to be ready to move back to a virtual model like we did last year,” she said.
Schools will have limited visitors and have no volunteers. There will be no field trips.
For those riding the bus they will sit one person per seat unless sitting with siblings in the same household. Seats on buses will be assigned and loaded from back to front of the bus. The bus schedules will be modified to allow for social distancing and will require double routes. Face coverings will be required of students while on the bus except for IEP and medical plans. Drivers will wear a face covering while students enter and exit the bus. Surfaces will be sanitized on buses and windows will be open when weather permits to allow for circulation of air.
Online registration for the district will occur Aug. 1-9. School is scheduled to start Sept. 1 for both in person and virtual students.