The administrators within the Poynette School District, and the School Board, agreed on a plan for fall instruction at all three schools.
The plan will have students returning to the classrooms in the fall for four days a week. Additionally, the board agreed that District Administrator Matt Shappell can adjust the plan, for better or worse, depending on the ongoing changing status of the coronavirus pandemic and guidelines released by various health departments and the Department of Public Instruction.
Before the board voted on all action items, a community forum was held in which six parents spoke to the board about their thoughts for reopening schools in the fall. All those who spoke were in favor of students returning to the classrooms to help improve their emotional state of mind.
“Psychologically, this is terrible for the kids,” David Pinherio said.
Three parents stated to the board how they noticed a change in the attitudes of their children. Each noted how their kids were easy-going and one mother her child is now being treated for anxiety due to virtual learning and being away from teachers and friends, while another mother said she doesn’t recognize her three kids anymore.
Kari Schultz, who owns Main Street Youngsters in Poynette, said that she has not closed her facility for one day during the pandemic. At one time, the facility only had nine or 10 kids, far below the capacity of 65. But as parents began going back to work, the number is now up to more than 40.
Schultz has 12 people on staff, either part- or full-time, with one person wearing a mask by choice. She said that the facility has had no positive cases with kids, staff or parents. She said parents aren’t allowed to enter the building to limit traffic. Temperatures of all children are taken at the beginning of the day and periodically throughout the days, with constant sanitizing and hand washing.
Because of how her business operates, with children of all ages, she feels the schools could do the same thing.
Each building administrator then presented his plan to those in attendance, and the board.
All three schools would provide face-to-face instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays, then have a virtual learning/activity day on Wednesdays. Students would then return to the buildings on Thursdays and Fridays. All buildings would break down their students into smaller cohorts of students to eliminate the 25-30 students in one class. The cohorts across all three buildings could range from 11-18 students.
Those families who are not comfortable with the in-person learning would then do virtual learning for as long as the family sees fit. The virtual learning schedule would be the exact same as the in-person schedule, so the students can better follow along. It also makes it easier to transition whenever the student were to return to the classroom. Virtual students are factored into the size of the cohort.
Cohorts would eat lunch together, but are encouraged to not mingle with other cohorts. The bathrooms would be sanitized consistently throughout the day and there would be different stations for recess — the green space, the blacktop and the playground. All equipment would be sanitized after each usage.
Other safety measures being taken are: students should bring their own water bottles; all internal doors, where appropriate, will remain open at all times; and their will be frequent breaks and outdoor time.
Principal Jay Hausser outlined his plan during the school board meeting for the inaugural fall in the new elementary school building. Cohorts would be about 15-18 students — kindergarten would have five with 14 students in each; first through fourth grade would have four, ranging from 15-17 students in each. Cohorts would get a block of cubbies to use for coats and backpacks
Fine arts teachers would come to certain classrooms instead of all kids going to the one specific room.
There would be an elementary school-only bus route, with a decreased amount of seating for each bus.
Staff will be required to wear face coverings when distancing cannot be maintained and students are encouraged to wear face coverings in those situations, but there will be scheduled “face cover free” times.
At the middle school level, Principal Jerry Pritzl said that cohorts would be about 15-18 students each. He also wants to bolster that Wednesday virtual day, so it’s possible that on Tuesday, students get extra instruction on what is expected of them and then come back Thursday and explain what they did, he said.
Teachers would rotate between cohorts to limit students from going from room to room.
“There’s a lot more space with the elementary kids moving out,” Pritzl said.
Students would not be able to use lockers during this time, but would rather take all their materials to their cohort classroom.
Staff and students will be required to wear face coverings when distancing cannot be maintained. Students must wear face coverings when in the hallways.
There will be bus routes for the middle school and high school to share, with the same limitations as the elementary school route.
The cohorts would be anywhere from 10-18 students and the online instructional platforms (Google Classroom, See-Saw, etc) would be utilized for all beginning the first day, Principal Mark Hoernke said.
“We want to keep kids going toward their college route,” Hoernke said. “We don’t want to let this get in their way, and we want to keep everyone safe.
There will be no bell system in the high school. Rather, each student would go to their specific cohort. With electives, the students from the same cohort would go to that specific elective location, like the STEAM area.
“We can get more restrictive or less restrictive,” Hoernke said.
“Kids can move in and out of the cohorts based on comfort, health and the focus on career goals,” Hoernke added.
There will be a closed-campus lunch policy and cohort will be assigned a specific window to go to the kitchen to pick up lunches and return to the classroom. Students may use the microwaves if bringing food from home, which will be sanitized after each use.
School board member Sally Stewart asked what would happen if a student in a specific cohort were to test positive for COVID-19.
Shappell said that the cohort model allows for such flexibility and safety precautions, but if a positive case were detected, the cohort would then go to virtual learning for the length of their quarantine.
“There is no 100% safe option,” Shappell said.
All board members were in favor of the four-day model, with each one stressing the importance of the social interaction between all in the building and the need for face-to-face instruction. Jeff Noble added that while this is the plan for now, if the overall numbers pertaining to the COVID-19 situation get better, the schools can move back to its regular five-day in-person instruction as soon as it’s safely possible.
But with the approval, the board was also in agreement that the district can shift plans around based on guidelines from the various health departments. That means if things happen to get worse, the district will shift back to virtual learning, similar to the way it ended the 2019-20 school year.
Director of Pupil Services David Fischer went over a survey of parents about reopening.
There was about a 60% return rate of the surveys, which accounted for 645 students in the district — 266 from the elementary school, 190 from the middle school and 189 from the high school (about 60% of its enrollment).
Questions were based on safety, transportation and instruction. Most of the surveys were supportive of a four- or five-day school week as their first two choices, with the certain added safety precautions like extra cleaning and sanitizing of buildings.
Shappell also said there was a staff survey, with responses focused on three things. He said one was about “HR things” and health protocols. Another brought up the question of times when social distancing could not be attained, that masks should be worn. And the last questioned overall instruction and how cohorts would move throughout buildings.