Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 9:27 am

The Board of Education voted 5-4 that all students will continue with virtual instruction until Public Health Madison Dane County metrics are met at its regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 28.

If that doesn't happen before the Dec. 7 regular meeting, the School Board will consider moving to a blended instructional model for the second semester, which starts in mid-January. 

Board president Annette Ashley presided over the meeting at the District Services Center, while other Board members participated remotely. The School Board has been meeting virtually since mid-March.

Before the vote, the Board spent close to an hour asking administrators various questions related to its plan for bringing students back into school buildings. Each Board member then had time to explain what they were thinking. The Board also considered a motion that would have had students continue with virtual instruction through first semester but it was voted down.   Earlier in the evening, Superintendent Dana Monogue offered a presentation,  Planning Our Next Steps, on when or if to bring students back into school buildings. District administrators also participated, along with Dr. Kathryn Schmit, a pediatric infectious disease fellow at UW-Madison Hospital and Clinics who has no affiliation with the District.

Monogue noted Public Health Madison Dane County released Order No. 9, which allowed student in pre-kindergarten through second grade to be in school buildings but not other grades, on Aug. 21 that area districts had to follow. The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction on Sept. 10, thereby making PHMDC's order guidance only. Monogue also reminded Board members about their discussion at the Sept. 14 meeting regarding bringing students back to schools.

Monogue noted the PK-2 metrics were met on Aug. 18, which is why some districts brought students in those grades back to school. She also reminded the Board that Dane County isn't currently meeting those benchmarks. Monogue noted PHMDC on Sept. 8 indicated even with data changing because UW-Madison opened up public schools can still bring PK-2 students into schools. She also reviewed which districts have already brought students back or will do so in the next week. She noted most districts in Wisconsin started with some form of in-person instruction. 

Monogue shared census tract data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showing the number of positive COVID cases in the municipalities that make up the District and the PHMDC data dashboard. She shared the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicators and thresholds for bringing students back into schools. 

As of Sept. 24, the 14-day average of positive cases in Dane County is 133, well above the 54 average PHMDC set for PK-2 grades to open. Dane County is also in the higher risk category based on number of new cases, according to the CDC, but the percentage of new cases places Dane County schools in the lower risk category, according to CDC.

"The statistics are challenging,'' Schmit said, noting positive cases and percentage are each important as the higher the percentage, the more likely community spread is occurring. 

The Board wondered if PHMDC had explained why it didn't lump K-4 together. Monogue noted PHMDC favors a phased approach. Dr. Schmit noted that children under the age of 9 years old makeup about 2 percent of all COVID cases, and the number increases for older children. Dr. Schmit did indicate she thinks it is more important to follow the county information rather than the entire state. The Board then spent about 40 minutes asking questions of Dr. Schmit.

Administration asked the Board to consider one of two proposals:

  • Remain in virtual setting until PHMDC guidelines are explicitly met for K-2, 3-5 and 6-12.
  • Bring PK-2 students into schools in a blended model starting on Nov. 2. Allows more time to monitor health data. Other levels would need to meet PHMDC guidelines before they are brought back. 

Once students do return, the District proposed using a blended model. Director or Elementary Education Rainey Briggs explained what that would look like at the K-2 level.   Students would be broken in two cohorts, meeting in-person either on Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday. He noted 4K would also use cohorts but meet in the morning from 8:45 to 11:45. The elementary schools would continue with their regular 7:45 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. schedule. Briggs noted classroom teachers will develop schedules, just like they do every year.    Mitigation strategies will require modifications such as lunch in classrooms, encore teachers coming to homeroom classrooms to teach those subjects, and intermittent live streaming to be responsive to students, which means there would not be synchronous instruction throughout school day.

Briggs also noted elementary students in the universal instructional model currently have class sizes ranging from 15-23 so cohorts would have 7-12 students per day.  

Briggs also shared a sample schedule that includes the components of instruction for K-2 students. He did note that first- and second-graders likely won't have purposeful play but kindergarten students will. he also showed what parts of the day would likely include synchronous instruction, although teachers would adjust schedules as they see fit. 

Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra explained once a decision is made to bring back K-2 students, their families will have a week make model changes if they want. Model changes for grades 3-4 won't occur until when the School Board decides to implement blended instruction for those grades. She added changes will be allowed from Universal to Fully Virtual or from Fully Virtual to Universal.

Cyra noted changing models will cause challenges as class sizes may change considerably if large numbers of students decide tp switch. The District will monitor class sizes, available staffing, teacher planning load and hopes to minimally disrupt homeroom assignments to students when this occurs. 

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Lori Ames then reviewed many of the risk mitigation efforts the District will implement with students in school. She noted people need to self-monitor and MCPASD will require families to check their children daily for symptoms.    Building principals are finalizing plans on how to make social distancing work in high traffic areas in their respective schools, Ames said. For example, students may use multiple entrances to enter schools at the start of the day or spread out recess more, she said. Classrooms are also being set up to maximize 6 feet of distancing between children and staff.    Staff will teach students how to wash hands properly and there will be built-in times throughout the school day to do so. Isolation rooms are available for students and staff who are ill or exhibiting symptoms. Masks are available for all staff, including disposable masks for those who forget them. Schools will also have additional child-sized masks if students forget to bring them, Ames said.