On June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Instruction released its Education Forward plan — guidelines for schools regarding how to handle the 2020-21 academic year.
“The next school year will be likely be different from the learning environment students and teachers have grown accustomed to,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said in the news release. “Education Forward is meant to provide information for educators and school officials as they make decisions regarding their school operations to keep all students and staff safe while learning.”
Several scenarios that were planned for include the following.
— Each student level (elementary through high school) reports to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations four full days a week.
— Schools are closed on the fifth day to allow for deep-cleaning.
— All students report to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations two full days per week (Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday).
A/B Week Rotation:
— Half of the student population reports to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations four full days per week for in-person learning while the other half of the school population participates in virtual learning at home. The two student groups alternate between in-person and virtual learning weekly.
Elementary face-to-face and secondary virtual learning:
— Elementary students start back to school first, before other levels.
— Elementary students attend four full days per week and are distributed across multiple sites in the district to reduce the student-teacher ratio in accordance with physical distancing recommendations.
— Secondary students continue to engage in virtual learning.
In all scenarios, the following will occur:
— Students are provided with virtual learning materials to support learning on those days when they do not report to school for in-person learning.
—All English learner, special education, gifted and talented, and resource teachers work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10/1 or fewer in each learning environment. Learning in outdoor spaces or partnerships with community-based organizations may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios to 10/1 or fewer.
— One day per week is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students do not report to school on these days but continue learning independently.
After a challenging finish to the 2019-20 academic year, school district administrators have been faced with another difficult decision over the next two months as they try to plan what their individual 2020-21 school years will look like.
State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor stated that each district should consult with its local health departments and work with them closely “to make the best decisions for their communities.”
The planning for area districts began even before the 2019-20 year ended.
Poynette sent a letter to all parents and guardians in late May, offering guidance to what the year may look, most of which was covered by the recent released DPI guidelines.
“After the turmoil of the spring, it is tough to think about fall right now,” Poynette District Administrator Matthew Shappell wrote. “However, it is important to consider and plan for possible disruptions. It is also important to remember we have so much to celebrate in our district — new and refurbished buildings, high student achievement, great co-curricular participation, and a caring and supporting community. Everyone wants to get things ‘back to normal’ but ‘normal’ may look different for a while. These challenges seem daunting, but I am confident that we can overcome any hurdle put down before us.”
Vince Breunig, who takes over as District Administrator for the Lodi schools on July 1 also addressed parents and guardians with a letter, and brief video earlier this month.
He noted three big priorities will aid him, and the rest of the district, in making the final decision. Breunig said that the safety and health of all — students, staff and all their families – is the No. 1 priority. Then, the district still wants to deliver a high-quality of teaching and learning regardless of the environment. Finally, any plan needs to have operational effectiveness as Breunig wants to avoid “long-term financial damage to the district.”
Shappell noted that added recommendations could be that everyone has their temperatures taken to begin the day and that staff and students might be required to wear masks while on buses and in school buildings.
Students might also be required to eat lunch in smaller groups, and schools might need to close common areas, including playgrounds.
“Districts have been told to be prepared for several possible scenarios in the fall, but any scenario will need to be flexible with student safety being the first priority,” Shappell wrote.
Other ideas posed by Shappell were to limit any non-essential visitors to school buildings, to rearrange classrooms to adhere to distancing and to prohibit the use of drinking fountains.
Shappell and Breunig said their districts continue to monitor the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Wisconsin Department of Health Services, along with DPI and will change plans accordingly.
“We all hope for a start that is close to normal, but with so many unknowns, we must prepare for different possibilities,” Shappell wrote.
Both acknowledged how tough it was for parents to not know what the year is going to look like, but appreciate the patience as each district looks for the safest and most effective solution.
“We know it’s a long process and appreciate your patience,” Breunig said. “It’s been a difficult three months, but the summer and fall will also be challenging.”
Because of the successful close to the 2019-2020 year, the districts know that they are capable to handle any situation in regards to starting the new school year.
“As a district, we always put the health and safety of our students first. Remote teaching and learning helped us keep students safe and got us through an immediate response to the pandemic,” Shappell wrote. “We are proud of our progress (with virtual learning) — but students on campus are what makes a school a school.”
Breunig added, “I, along with everyone else, would like to see us come together in the traditional manner. That’s our preference, but as we’ve seen with the pandemic, we don’t always get to control these things.”
To see the 83-page document released by the DPI, go to www.dpi.wi.gov and click on the link dated June 22 in the “Latest News” section.