While there is no definitive date set, the Marshall School Board is hoping to have all school buildings open for students by the end of February. The group discussed the possible timeline for allowing in-person learning at its Dec. 16 meeting. Superintendent Dan Grady suggested the district look at a phased in approach for allowing in-person instruction at all four buildings. The schools would continue to offer what is being referred to as blended instruction, where families could have children attend classes either in-person or remotely.

“The staff have been working through conversations to start planning to open up our schools, to learn from the ELC (Early Learning Center), to learn from other districts that have paved that way ahead of us,” Grady said. “As we transition, the planning, the work, all of the preparation, we certainly acknowledge there is apprehension and anxiety.”

He noted in light of the recent Public Health Madison & Dane County guidance on reopening schools for grades 6-12, returning to in-person instruction at all grade levels may seem like it’s coming very quickly.

Last month, it was determined the ELC, which was able to hold roughly two weeks of in-person instruction in October before needing to close due to staffing shortages, would offer in-person instruction no sooner than Jan. 19. Grady said staff was recommending Jan. 19 also be the day elementary school identified students, including those with individual education plans (IEPs), English-language learners, and other services, be able to receive in-person instruction.

As of Dec. 16, 35 identified students have been allowed to come to the schools for instruction.

Elementary school Principal Kathy Kennon planned to have grades 3-4 return to in-person learning by Feb. 2 and grades 5-6 students given the in-person option a week later. She said unlike when the ELC resumed in-person instruction in October that included a week of half-days, grades 3-6 would begin with full days. The plan is to have all PreK-6 students have the option to be in the school buildings on Tuesday through Friday, with Monday a fully remote day where students would be expected to participate; Monday could be used for staff planning, preparation and meeting remotely with individuals or small groups plus a virtual morning meeting for each classroom.

The decision to bring a pair of grades a week apart would allow for a transitional approach. The younger students would have time to adapt to and model the new procedures at the school such as entering the building at the start of the day, lunch, recess and leaving the school before grades 5-6 returned to in-person instruction.

While not part of her plan, Kennon said the elementary school could have third and fourth graders return a week sooner on Jan. 26, and offer fifth and sixth graders in-person instruction starting Feb. 2.

“Many of our students haven’t been back in the buildings for five months, so it’s going to be a whole new ball of wax for them,” Board President Debi Frigo said.

With plans to rollout blended instruction for the youngest Marshall Public School pupils moving forward, there has been no set timeline for the middle and high schools return for in-person learning.

Middle School Principal Paul Herrick said there are some challenge, particularly with the daily schedule. Both high and middle school have students move between classrooms for instruction.

“In hybrid we would have to do a cohort model, which I’m going to guess (grades) 5-6 will need to do this as well,” the principal said. “And, within that, trying to in the best way to then use our shared staffing with the high school depending on what the high school can do. There are some complications in there.”

Herrick said that when the middle school does open, he wants to make sure there is a solid plan. The principal, however, does believe the middle school could open sooner than the high school.

Frigo asked the middle and high school principals to have reopening plans to present at the board’s Jan. 6 committee of the whole meeting.

Employee COVID-19 leave benefits

With the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) concluding Dec. 31, the board approved employee leave benefits related to COVID-19.

In the absence of the FFCRA being extended, Grady said the district recommended all staff who need to quarantine or isolate but are still able to work remotely do not need to take a leave day and be paid.

Staff who cannot work remotely while being quarantined or isolated and/or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis would be allowed 10 days of paid leave at their regular rate. This would only be applicable for cases that have been contracted through the workplace.

Unlike the FFCRA, the Marshall COVID-19 leave policy would not include two weeks of leave paid at two-thirds the regular rate for employees who needs to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable due to the coronavirus. District Business Manager Bob Chady explained this would not be covered because once in-person instruction resumes, the district will need as many staff as possible available to facilitate that process.

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