Waubesa Intermediate School and Indian Mound Middle School will now be offering a McFarland-based virtual learning option for students as the district phases back to in-person learning this month and into February.

The McFarland School District (MSD) has released yet another development in the school reopening process.

All students in grades three through eight will now have the option to remain as they are in a fully virtual learning model through MSD as the schools move toward reopening for an in-person hybrid model later this month and into February.

Previously, an in-house virtual model was only to be offered to high school students.

School board members and district administrative staff came to this decision following a joint work session held last week. The session was planned after several district families expressed extreme concern with the district’s plan to move towards in-person learning without offering an in-house fully virtual option for students not comfortable returning to schools under current COVID-19 metrics.

Under the district’s initial reopening plan, students in grades three through eight wishing to opt-out of a transition back to physical schools would have been forced to transfer out of their current school into Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA). The new plan for an in-house virtual option will prevent students from needing to transfer schools.

“The board and administration both recognize that offering WIVA as the only virtual option for our students is not meeting the needs of our school community,” said Superintendent Andrew Briddell. “After thorough examination of the complexities surrounding a McFarland-based virtual option, including the potential benefits for students and families and the significant implications for our staff, the board directed administration to move forward with implementing a McFarland-based virtual option in concert with the transition to in-person instruction.”

Staff at Indian Mound Middle School (IMMS) and Waubesa Intermediate School (WIS) are now working on organizing and implementing the McFarland-based virtual option by the date that hybrid instruction is set to begin.

Initially set for a reopening date of Jan. 26 for grades three to five and Feb. 19 for six to eight, Briddell said this new development may push that reopening to a later date.

Board Member Christine Pribbenow said the potential timeline of these extended reopening dates, “will be worked out at the building level and will be communicated to families.”

McFarland High School (MHS) staff are also working on the in-house virtual plan to be put in place by Feb. 22, the date that MHS is set to reopen its doors for in-person learning.

As McFarland families with students in grades three through 12 prepare to make a decision on remaining virtual or moving forward with the district’s hybrid in-person model, those in grades 4k through two will not be offered the virtual option.

“4k and CEPS [kindergarten to second grade] will not be offering an in-house virtual option,” Briddell said.

He cited the younger students’ age range and other unnamed factors as the reasoning behind that decision.

“The [4k through two] students, staff, and families have worked extremely hard and experienced great success operating in hybrid in-person instruction since September. Due to this, along with the age of students and several other factors, the board determined that adding an in-house virtual option would cause a significant disruption to their current in-person programming, including the schedule and staffing,” Briddell explained.

While the district’s decision to produce an in-house virtual option for grades three to eight was made to put families at ease, some McFarland teachers say they still have intense safety concerns with the reopening plan as it stands.

“School districts do not survive without the unpaid labor and emotional support educators continually provide, often to their own detriment. We are always going above and beyond, and it is time for this school board to go above and beyond for educators to provide not only safe but stable schools in this ongoing pandemic,” said Mariel McAleer, a social studies teacher at MHS.

The McFarland School Board will hold its next meeting on Feb. 1.

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