Though many variables could affect the return of all Waunakee students to school buildings, the board of education heard a tentative schedule for all grades to potentially begin a hybrid model by February in a staggered approach.
At their meeting Monday, the board approved the return of grades 3-4 on Oct. 26.
School board member Mark Hetzel noted he had perceived what he called a slight change in the perspective from the medical staff.
“Particularly from Dr. Ranum, what he said is it’s not a clinical decision; it’s an operational decision — if we feel we’ve got the pieces in place to handle the next group of kids coming in, and I haven’t heard from our leadership that we’re not prepared,” Hetzel said.
He said the medical group has high confidence in the measures staff and administration are taking, noting the schools and district have seen controlled numbers.
“It’s not so much the clinical numbers, the COVID data. It’s do we feel we can handle these kids coming in. And it sounds to me like we can,” Hetzel said.
The board then went on to hear plans for grades 5-12.
The board first heard from the middle and high school principals about how instruction has gone at those grade levels this fall.
Jeff Kenas, Middle School Principal, said fall is going better than spring. Teachers have been working hard to provide an experience as close to what they could with in-person learning, allowing time for students to meet with teachers virtually and interact via Zoom.
“We’ve had a great deal of flexibility in the middle school model with teachers’ ability to sort of fill in the gaps for students who are struggling,” Kenas said, though he added having students in the building would be ideal.
High School Principal Brian Borowski said they started the year with an asynchronous model four days a week and added an advisory committee to support students.
“That was simply based on feedback, research that was going on that kids feel like they’re isolated and need social and emotional support,” Borowski said.
He said from listening to students, he’s heard mixed reactions.
“We put it in so we can make sure kids are feeling supported,” Borowski said. He has heard fewer reports of students struggling, he added.
Both principals said virtual parent teacher conferences have been well attended and parents seem to like the flexibility. That option may remain in the future, after the pandemic is over.
The schools are also beginning to bring some students back into the buildings for hands-on classes such as culinary arts and AP biology. But, Borowski said, those who cannot show up should not be penalized.
Kenas said plans are in place to bring Horizons student back in the building with students coming in as parents schedule them. Students who are struggling to get internet access at home may be able to schedule a time to come in and use LMTC, he added.
Kenas added that 93 technical education students have expressed an interest in coming back into the school to take part in a live class out of 117 responses.
Students would come in 10 at a time.
Tim Schell, curriculum director, then spoke about planning for grades 7-12 instructional pieces for a hybrid model.
Schell noted that this is a challenging time, with compromises for all.
“There’s nothing we can offer in terms of an option for you as a board that will make everyone happy,” Schell said. “This is not a situation any of us sought out. Everybody’s doing the best that they can, and better days will be ahead for all of us.”
The model being looked at is a 2-day rotation. The hybrid model is used when not all can meet in person, with families able to opt for virtual learning.
The preference is an in-person model meeting public health guidelines, including a six-foot spacing requirement.
With the de-densification restriction, there is no way to bring all students in at one time, Schell said.
The model calls for an abbreviated day – three and half hours on campus followed by remote contact time.
One group would attend Monday and Tuesday in person and video conference in Thursday and Friday. Another group would be on campus Thursday and Friday and Zoom in Monday and Tuesday. The all-remote group would come in on video conference on all four days.
A six-and-a-half hour day on campus was also considered.
“But at this time, we do believe the abbreviated day is a preferable way to enter into the hybrid model,” Schell said.
The No. 1 hurdle to a longer day is lunch.
“I think all of us know that among all the things we choose to do during a pandemic, eating in the communal setting is one of the higher risk activities,” Schell said.
Also, Schell said, while some students can video conference for an entire day, some students are stretched by video conferencing time, and longer days in person would mean longer days spent video conferencing.
Schell said the approach is a little different than at the elementary school. All 7-12 students would have combined sections. If a student needs to miss time for quarantine, they would be able to access class remotely.
To accomplish this, a list of steps are needed, including finalizing the process for building access and health forms, disinfecting buildings, monitoring contract tracing, setting demonstration classrooms and more.
District Administrator Randy Guttenberg laid out a projected timeline.
“You have to approach this from a respect of let’s just take a few constants and say they’re all moving forward in a positive way,” Guttenberg said. That includes disease mitigation and availability of substitute teachers.
Grades 3-4 will move ahead to a hybrid model on Oct. 26, the board has decided.
On Nov. 9, the medical advisory committee will meet. Two weeks later, the board will meet to review data with an eye toward bringing back grades 5-6.
Working around Thanksgiving, grades 5-6 could return on Nov. 30. Then there is the potential to bring grades 7-8 back Jan. 11, with high school students returning potentially Feb. 1.
Allowing three weeks between each return of students provides time to review the data.
Board members, including Jack Heinmann, discussed the possibility of hiring full-time substitute teachers. Heinemann said that could accelerate the timeline by solving the staffing issue.
“We’ve already approved three contract tracers, we’ve got the nursing staff…” Heinemann said. “I think what the community is asking is how do we get our kids back in school?”