While the majority of Early Learning Center families want in-person classes to resume next month, the Marshall School Board decided at its Nov. 18 meeting that face-to-face learning won’t return until next year.

The ELC was pivoted to all remote instruction on Nov. 11 due to the number of staff who were required to quarantine due to close contact. According to the district’s coronavirus dashboard, as of Nov. 20, 53 of the 77 total district staff impacted by the virus had to quarantine due to close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

ELC Principal Rich Peters sent out a survey on Nov. 12 to Early Childhood through second grade families asking if they would prefer returning to the blended model — where families could choose face-to-face or remote instruction – Dec. 1, Jan. 19, 2021 or February. The overwhelming majority replied they wanted to resume this model Dec. 1.

Under the recent Dane County emergency order 10, students in second grade and younger are allowed to attend school in person, as would students who have individual education plans or are identified as English language learners.

However, after talking with the district’s building leaders, administration team, and area superintendents, Superintendent Dan Grady recommended in-person instruction at the ELC not resume until Jan. 19, 2021 at the earliest. This decision was based on the available data and what he felt was the most responsible action to take. The selected date was determined by the academic calendar since Marshall schools are closed Jan. 18, 2021 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The superintendent emphasized Jan. 19, 2021 is not the definite day in-person learning will resume, but would be the first possible date for it to occur.

While parents were eager for their children to return to the building, staff was a bit more hesitant to resume face-to-face learning.

During the public comment portion at the start of the meeting, staff spoke in favor of not having students return to in-person instruction too soon.

Second grade teacher Jen Tranberg said the fact the ELC was only open for in-person instruction for three weeks before it needed to close showed the concerns brought up regarding the Oct. 20 start date were valid.

“I can tell you from first hand experience that the actual social distancing in our class is extremely minimal,” she said. “I find myself over and over reminding students to watch their distance and pull their masks back up. … Unfortunately, I have had at least three students in my class who were sent to school for several days by family members who have either known themselves to be COVID positive or in situations where they knew the entire family had been exposed.”

The second grade teacher said after the failed attempt at reopening and the continual increase in positive diagnosis, the school cannot expect the ELC to reopen without these behaviors happening again.

“How soon before a student or staff member gets seriously ill or even, God forbid, dies,” Tranberg said. “How can we justify that?”

Peters surveyed the ELC staff with 44 of the 57 staff responding. When asked for feedback about regarding the time students were allowed face-to-face instruction from Oct. 20-Nov. 10 exactly half of the respondents felt the school was prepared to bring the students back starting Oct. 20. Furthermore, 32 felt the contact tracing being conducted by the district was keeping students and staff safe.

Back to school: in-person instruction at ELC beginning Oct. 20

Board members also expressed concern about the earliest date in-person learning could occur; Staci Abrahamson felt Jan. 19, 2021 was too soon after the holidays when families may decide to participate in large gatherings, which have been linked to the transmission of coronavirus.

ELC and elementary school music teacher Sherry Jenkel, who also serves at the Marshall Education Association’s secretary, said given the rate of COVID-19 cases in Marshall and the closing of the ELC, asked if the board would consider allowing staff to work remotely to minimize exposure to coronavirus.

“Having the option to work from home will reduce the interaction among staff and therefore minimize the threat of COVID,” the teacher said, adding Dane County Executive Joe Parisi urged people to work from home to the greatest extent possible.

The district will continue flexibility of working spaces to staff where ELC and elementary school teachers can teach outside of the school after 12:30 p.m.; middle and high school teachers would be given an opportunity to work remotely in either the morning or afternoon, based on their schedule.

The district is considering the possibility of bringing students with IEPs and ELL sooner than Jan. 19, 2021.

While the district determined the earliest date the youngest learners, there was no discussion on when students in grades 3-12 would have the option to return to in-person instruction.

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