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The Milton School District's school day likely will look different next year than it has in the past as the district balances learning and safety in the COVID-19 era.

District officials are considering three options for conducting school.

Under one option, all students could be back in classrooms but following social distancing measures. Under another, students could attend school virtually with no in-person instruction as they are now. The third option is a “hybrid” approach that blends teaching students in person in small groups on alternating days and online assignments.

“Student and staff health and safety has to be our top priority at this time. We want to make sure that we ensure and maintain a safe environment that is conducive to learning for everyone,” Superintendent Rich Dahman told the school board Tuesday.

The school district is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rock County health authorities, the state Department of Public Instruction and other stakeholders to navigate options, Dahman said.

Kari Klebba, communications and community outreach coordinator, said the district is combing through different parts of the school day and considering how to change them.

She said social distancing might be easier in high school classrooms than in younger grades such as 4K, but distance between students will be key moving forward.

“First and foremost, all of the local health officials and the Rock County Health Department were very specific that social distancing is everything,” she said.

Shared spaces such as water fountains likely will be closed, and officials are discussing what to do with shared materials such as paints and crayons.

Other considerations under discussion include symptom screening of students, advanced cleaning techniques, acquisition of personal protective equipment, and how to handle requests to use school property for events.

The district also is talking with other area districts about how best to return in fall.

Which option the district chooses likely will depend on the coronavirus and if or when a second wave of the virus hits, Dahman said.

The district has learned a lot from virtual learning this year, he said.

“One of the considerations ... is how do we continue to meet the academic needs for all students, because we know that some students learn well remotely, and others need that more face-to-face atmosphere," Dahman said. "And how are we meeting the social-emotional need for all of our students because that need has changed and increased because of the situation.”

Staff will receive professional development in how to deliver education in online learning and hybrid setups.

Board members Mike Hoffman, a retired teacher, and Diamond McKenna asked how small classrooms in older elementary school buildings, such as Milton East and Milton West, would work for socially distanced learning.

Dahman said the size of classrooms might require the district to adopt the hybrid model of teaching, but no decisions have been made.

“Especially in our older buildings, it’s a tight squeeze when we’re not worried about keeping people 6 feet apart,” Dahman said.

“So putting that in place will be a struggle for us, and that might lead to our need to bring students in in smaller groups or some type of rotation system in the fall.”

Board President Joe Martin asked about additional cleaning staff, and Dahman said that is one consideration for the district. McKenna asked that district officials be on the lookout for area PPE giveaways and other help.

Dahman said as the district gets more information from health officials and COVID-19 runs its course, the district’s approach could change.

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