Monona Grove middle and high school students will be heading back to physical schools within the next two months.

The Monona Grove School Board gave approval in a Jan. 13 vote for grades six through 12 to make a return to in-person learning no earlier than March 15.

By the time they return to schools this March, students will have been learning from home for nearly a year. The middle and high school buildings shut down in March of last year due to COVID-19.

Families will have the option to choose whether their students stay in a fully virtual learning model or transition into a hybrid learning model.

All students will be split into three cohorts: hybrid in-person, hybrid embedded, and fully embedded.

Hybrid in-person and hybrid embedded will consist of a blue team and a silver team. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the blue team will be partaking in hybrid in-person learning, meaning they will be in physical schools while the silver team (hybrid embedded) and the 100% virtual group (fully embedded) interact from home via a livestream of the classroom.

Thursdays and Fridays will be a flip of Mondays and Tuesdays, putting the silver team in physical schools while the blue team and fully embedded team join the livestream from home. On Wednesdays, all students will stay at home and work on independent learning projects while teachers conduct cleaning and planning procedures.

The specifics of the learning model are subject to change upon teacher and staff input and collaboration as the reopening date approaches.

Superintendent Dan Olson initially proposed a return date of March 6 for middle school and March 15 for high school. The idea of basing the transition on COVID-19 metrics as opposed to a specific date was also discussed, but board members ultimately decided on a uniform return date of March 15.

“We’re not going to make everyone happy. We’re not going to make the community happy, we’re not going to make some teachers happy, but we do owe it to the community that we need to get a date set and we have to give people hope right now,” said School Board President Andrew McKinney.

“We have to have hope that these [COVID] numbers go down. We need to come to some resolution to get our kids back in school because we are supposed to do that,” he continued. “It’s not going to be perfect, it’s all a learning process but we have to try something. We have to get hope out, we have to get this date out. If when it gets to that date it doesn’t work, we have to extend it.”

If COVID-19 metrics worsen by March 15, the board may move the reopening to a later date.

The return of middle and high school students follows the board’s prior decisions to transition 4k through second grade to hybrid learning by Jan. 26 and grades three to five by Feb. 8.

While students will be given preference on remaining fully virtual or returning to school, teachers will not. Unless proof is provided of a medical condition that would prevent them from doing so, all middle and high school teachers will be required to return to schools.

Kelly Sullivan, an english teacher of 21 years at Monona Grove High School, addressed the board with strong concerns for teacher safety if not given a choice to teach virtually.

“My colleagues and I would rather be teaching in-person because it’s a better educational model for students, but we know teaching virtually is saving lives and keeping us safer under current conditions. When we surveyed our staff ourselves last week, we learned that 90% of teachers who responded would not feel safe returning,” Sullivan said.

Based on Sullivan’s data, nearly 30% of Monona Grove teachers surveyed are prepared to utilize the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if forced to return to schools under current COVID-19 conditions.

The school board will meet again on Feb. 10.

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