The Waunakee school board has affirmed its decision to reopen schools this month. Monday night, board members voted unanimously in favor of expanding hybrid instruction to all grade levels on Jan. 26.

The decision allows more than 2,500 students in grades 5-12 to return to the classroom for second semester.

“Administratively, we feel like we are in a position to move forward,” superintendent Randy Guttenberg told the board at its Jan. 11 meeting. “We are looking at doing this well and doing this safely for all of our students, staff and community. And we feel that the pieces we’ve put in place can do that.”

School administrators have laid out plans for an AM/PM cohort model at the intermediate school, alternating weeks at the middle school, and an alternating two-day schedule at the high school.

Board members posed several questions to school and district administration about the reopening.

Director Joan Ensign asked high-school principal Brian Borowski to explain the difference between “advisory” times, and a homeroom period that will be taking place on Wednesdays.

“Advisory is something we’ve done this entire year. It’s to create positive connections with kids, positive socio-emotional supports for them,” Borowski said. “And then homeroom is what we’ve done historically in the past. We’ve gotten away from that… Seeing as we’re virtual, we don’t make kids show up to a space just to hang out, because it’s awkward and it’s not helpful.”

Borowski said the decision to bring back homeroom time stemmed from parent concerns about a lack of programming on Wednesdays, which to date have been reserved for asynchronous work.

He noted that homerooms will look different than years’ past due to social-distancing guidelines.

“It’s just not clean in the environment that we’re in,” Borowski said, “because you pretty much have to put everybody in private rooms and then go to them all one at a time. But we want to try, because we know that is something that’s been missing this semester. It’s been missing since COVID.”

President Dave Boetcher asked Human Resources Director Brian Grabarski whether the district would consider bringing an additional contact tracer on board before reopening the classrooms.

The school board authorized the hiring of up to three limited-term contact tracers in October. So far, only two have been hired.

“One thing that got brought up during the medical (advisory) meeting was the possibility that tracing might become problematic as we basically more than double the number of students we put in our buildings,” Boetcher said. “My question is, wouldn’t it be better to be proactive and bring the third one on now, before it becomes tougher?”

Grabarski said administrators had talked about it, but decided that the position wasn’t yet necessary.

“In addition to the contact tracers, whose sole responsibility is tracing, we also have a health assistant in every building and two full-time nurses across the district,” Grabarski said. “We have not even begun to scratch the available hours of all those staff, and we feel that we’re going to be okay to start with the current level of staffing we have.”

Guttenberg said cleaning and sanitizing procedures approved in December are being put in place this week, and that parents can expect communication about instructional plans and transportation.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, the school board:

- Ratified an agreement between the Waunakee Teachers Association (WTA) and the Waunakee Board Negotiations Team for a 1.81 percent base wage increase for teachers.

- Approved HR Committee recommendations regarding salary and benefits, and the extension of “EPSL-like” leave to employees who did not use the emergency paid sick leave that was afforded by the FFCRA during the start of the 2020-21 school year.

- Approved Fund 10 and Fund 41 capital maintenance projects, including the replacement of two boilers at the high school.

- Approved administration’s open-enrollment capacity recommendations

- Received a report from Summer School Director Sheila Weihert regarding planning for summer school.

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