After nearly six months of learning from home, McFarland students in grades three through five are heading back to physical schools.
At its Dec. 14 meeting, the McFarland School Board voted in favor of an action that will send third, fourth, and fifth graders from virtual to hybrid in-person learning on Jan. 26.
Hybrid in-person learning, as outlined in the district’s official reopening plan, is a program in which half of the students attend physical school in the morning, and the other half attend in the afternoon.
The board’s decision marks a transition into step three of the district’s five step COVID-19 reopening plan. District officials say step five is a return to standard procedures as they were prior to the onset of the pandemic.
Grades three to five are the second group of students moving forward in the reopening plan. Grades 4k-2 were permitted to enter step three in September.
Since opening for hybrid in-person learning Sept. 17, at least one faculty member and nine students at Conrad Elvehjem Primary School (CEPS) have tested positive for COVID-19.
While the board did approve a move to hybrid learning for grades three to five, they did so only under a conditional amendment that district officials will work on offering the choice for a 100% virtual option to families who still want it.
Board member Ann Moliter introduced the amendment after board members struggled to come to a united decision on the agenda item as it was originally presented.
“I am in favor of moving to hybrid, but I’m not necessarily in favor of the way it was proposed,” Moliter said. “I don’t know that it has to be an either or, and I’ve looked at other schools that have been able to accommodate allowing parents to choose what’s best for their student.”
After concerns raised by board member Christine Pribbenow, the board also still has an option to consider pushing back the Jan. 26 date once updated COVID-19 data is released after the holidays
“My only condition in not wanting to move forward with the motion [as proposed] would be if data showed that COVID numbers are going up after the holidays. I would feel very hesitant over the next few weeks if they continued to rise. The risk would be too great,” said Pribbenow.
Prior to making a final decision, the school board heard nearly three hours of testimony from area students, parents, and teachers who voiced their opinions on whether or not the district should move forward with the motion.
Although all McFarland elementary students have received the green light to move forward with in-person learning, middle and high school students are still fully virtual.
Melissa Pfohl, the district’s director of teaching and learning, said that based on health official guidelines, middle and high school students could be ready to follow suit with hybrid learning by mid-February.
The school board will meet again on Dec. 21.