Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 8:23 am

The Board of Education approved having students in grades 5-8 in the Universal instructional model return to school buildings four days a week starting May 3 at its regular meeting at Kromrey Middle School on Monday, March 22.

Middle school principals Dom Ricks (Kromrey) and Ken Metz (Glacier Creek) attended the meeting in-person and presented and answered questions. High school principals Peg Shoemaker (MHS) and Jill Gurtner (CSCS), along with Director of Secondary Education Laura Love, Director of Student Services Barb Buffington and Health Services coordinator Danielle Krbecek also attended.

Superintendent Dana Monogue reminded the Board the secondary administrative team recommended at the March 8 meeting that the schools remain in a blended learning model through the end of the school year. She reviewed many of the ways the pandemic has impacted students and staff at the secondary level and the multiple factors to consider when deciding if students should attend in-person four days a week.

Monogue also noted the District is fully committed to being open full-time for all grade levels at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Ricks noted students in a four-day-a-week model will need to sit two to a table and tables will be approximately 1 foot away from each other. Currently, the middle schools are able to keep students 6 feet apart in classrooms. If one student tests positive and mitigation strategies have been followed, no other students would currently be a close contact. If everyone returns, Ricks predicted there would be more close contacts.

The principals noted there is a greater risk of transmission during lunch periods. The schools will have students eat outdoors on days when the weather permits. Optimal distancing at the middle school levels is not possible and having students face the same direction will be difficult, too. Round tables are an issue at every level.

Concurrent teaching instruction would still be needed for students who are in quarantine or isolated. Less individual instruction will likely occur with more students. Some larger classes may need to be split into two groups resulting in some students attending virtually even while at school. Metz and Ricks noted middle school band and orchestra would access courses virtually on a very limited basis on Wednesdays.

Metz and Ricks noted they preferred a May 3 start date as the Wisconsin Forward Exam will be administered to middle school students the weeks of April 19-23 and April 26-30 and didn't want to offer the assessments earlier because many families plan to voluntarily quarantine after spring break.

Monogue then reviewed a summary of benefits and challenges associated with an increase to in-person learning at the secondary level. The District indicated there were three options to consider: remain in blended model, increase to four days of in-person instruction, or go to four half-days of in-person instruction with students leaving before lunch.

Members asked questions throughout and after the presentation and offered feedback.

Here are a few questions the District anticipated families would have because of the decision:

When will this take effect?

Middle school students in the Universal instructional model will begin attending school four days a week starting Monday, May 3.

What days will students be attending school buildings?

Middle school students will report to school buildings for in-person learning on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The hours they currently attend will not change.

What will Wednesdays look like?

Students will continue to access asynchronous instruction virtually on Wednesdays for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Are students allowed to switch instructional models?

No, students must remain in the instructional model their family selected in December. Additional model changes would likely result in teachers switching models, which means some students would have to transition to a new teacher again. We don’t think that is beneficial for students or staff members at this time.

Schools may provide individual accommodations for Universal students in unique circumstances. If your child requires accommodations, please reach out to your school’s principal.

How will distancing be handled in classrooms and on buses?

We will continue to do our best to maintain some physical distancing although with more students at Glacier Creek and Kromrey it will be impossible for students to maintain 3-6 feet of physical distancing in classrooms throughout the day.

Students and staff will continue to wear masks, use proper hand hygiene and we will follow Public Health Madison Dane County’s contract tracing protocols when a COVID-positive staff or student case occurs in any of our buildings.

Where will students eat lunch?

Lunch will vary from school-to-school and grade-to-grade depending on class size, the physical size of each classroom and other building factors. Students will eat in classrooms when possible. Some classes or students may eat in the cafeteria or gym. Outdoor spaces will be used when possible.

The strategies we employ at lunch to mitigate spread are quiet (activities that encourage quiet time during lunch) and forward-facing/facing one direction when possible.

Schools will provide more information as we get closer to May 3.

Will there be an opportunity to adjust our transportation needs?

The District will be sending out a revised online transportation form to families whose children are in middle school in the Universal model shortly after spring break. Families whose children are eligible but aren’t currently using District transportation may sign up to do so. Families whose children are currently riding District buses will also have the opportunity to drive their children to school.

If you decline transportation now, you can request it later. Please note it usually takes up to five days after a request is made before a student can start riding the bus.

The presentation from Monday's meeting is available on the District website on the BOE Meeting Presentation page.