Sun Prairie Area School District students in early childhood through second grade will move to a hybrid instructional model effective Dec. 7, according to a plan outlined during the Oct. 26 Sun Prairie School Board meeting.

Parents of Early Childhood through second graders should have already received a letter describing the process that will be associated with a parent survey. The purpose of the survey will be to determine how many parents will send their students to school two days a week under the hybrid model, or opting out of the hybrid and continuing to have their students educated virtually at home or in childcare sites.

Members of the Sun Prairie Area School District administrative team outlined the process, which includes the following key dates:

October 29 — Hybrid option survey distributed to parents and caregivers of Early Childhood-Second Grade, with a survey closure date of Wednesday, Nov. 4;

Mid-November — Students assignments to an “A Group” or “B Group” cohort to be shared with families.

December 7 — Anticipated first day of hybrid instruction for Early Childhood-Grade 2 students, as long as it is allowable by Public Health Madison Dane County guidelines.

Group A cohort students will attend school Mondays and Tuesdays, with Wednesdays for teacher-assigned independent study or homework, and Thursdays and Fridays for online instruction. Group B will have in-school instruction Thursdays and Fridays and have online instruction Mondays and Tuesdays, with Wednesdays also used for independent teacher-assigned work or homework.

SPASD Director of Student Policy & School Operations Nick Reichhoff said PHMDC is still supportive of allowing K-2 instruction at this time. The majority of school cases elsewhere in Dane County are unrelated to school or are with individuals whose cases are in environments unrelated to schools.

Reichhoff also said from the start of instruction on Aug. 24 until Oct. 21, there have been nine staff and one student who have tested positive and those cases are unrelated.

Comments from the public (see the PDF of public comments with this story online at sunprairiestar.com) were split between allowing students to return to school and keeping children home.

“I’m for the opening of all schools,” wrote Sun Prairie resident Andy Johnson, who has two daughters at Sun Prairie High School and two sons at Sacred Hearts, “and I’m writing for the sake of all kids, not just my own. We need to understand that those who are the least fortunate are the punching bags in this.”

In an email, Sun Prairie resident Karen Anderegg also asked for more live, in-person instruction.

“I am writing to urge you to consider maintaining SPASD’s current plan for virtual learning until, at the very least, January 25,” wrote Staci Uebersetzig, a mother of Token Springs students who noted that several local districts announced return to in-person instruction only to shut it down and return to virtual instruction when COVID-19 cases spiked later. “Sending our children back to school in any capacity at this time would be dangerous and irresponsible.”

“I am writing this email because I have heard murmurs of transitioning to an in-person hybrid model of learning,” wrote Stephanie Peterson, also a mother of Token Springs students. “I have many, many concerns about this and would like to voice my opinion in the hopes of deterring or, at the very least, delaying a decision to move forward with in-person learning.”

“I am struggling to understand why, when it was not safe for kids to attend school in person at the start of the school year in September, it would be safe for them to attend school in-person now when our numbers are so much worse?” asked Jennifer Savagian. “This simply does not make sense.”

The administrative team stressed that parents will have the option to keep their children at home to participate completely in online instruction.

Both Reichhoff, with previous instruction from Director of Facilities and Grounds Kevin Sukow, said district personnel are continuing to deep clean on Wednesdays at district school facilities, and regularly clean high-touch surfaces such as doors, windows, door handle pulls and knobs and other high traffic areas each day.

In response to a question from Board Treasurer Caren Diedrich, Reichhoff explained that district policy does not permit children to be in school if they are ill — including COVID-19 symptoms. Each school has places where students with COVID symptoms can be isolated and placed in a COVID protocol or an other illness protocol. If the student is running a fever, the student must have a lower temperature for 24 hours before being readmitted to school.

If there is a positive test, Reichhoff said the district has two nurses who act as contact tracers to determine who the student may have come in contact with in order for them to get tested. In addition, most of the students and the teacher in the student’s cohort may have to quarantine for 14 days if it is determined the COVID child was contagious while attending school.

“I really appreciate the phenomenal communication we continue to have on this,” remarked Board Vice President Tom Weber, noting the district’s recently re-designed and re-launched website that contains a page where frequently asked questions about COVID-19 will be compiled, answered and shared.

School Board Member Marilyn Ruffin asked how the district plans to handle students wearing masks.

Reichhoff told the board that other districts haven’t had an issue with that. But, there will be stories about mask wearing, and the district will be accepting donations of child-sized masks for EC-grade 2 kids who need them.

“I know it’s not an easy decision for you guys to make,” remarked School Board Governance Officer Dave Hoekstra, who added he thought it was the right decision to make because grade K-2 kids struggle with distance learning.

The plan, Hoekstra said, gives families the option of getting their kids back to school.

“I think it’s the logical next step,” Hoekstra said, adding that there will be comments on both sides of the issue.“I have no doubt in my mind this is the right decision to do.”

Hoekstra also pointed out there are other districts in Dane County that have been doing this and doing it well, and named DeForest, Waunakee and Verona school districts specifically.

SPASD Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning Rick Mueller said the administrative team examined many other district models before settling on the hybrid approach being implemented on Dec. 7.

“This model really has a lot of advantages to make it the preferred model for students, teachers and parents,” Mueller said.

No board approval was required because the plan was part of the SPASD’s previously presented “Ready to Pivot” instructional model.

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