A faculty bus passes Columbus College Monday, March 16, 2020, in Appleton, Wis. The Appleton Space College district can be closed for at the very least three weeks as a result of statewide faculty closures to forestall the unfold of the coronavirus. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin (Photograph: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis)
Whereas Fox Valley public faculty districts have but to disclose their reopening plans amid the continued coronavirus pandemic, one factor’s for sure: Heading again to highschool within the fall will look a lot completely different than in years previous.
New in depth guidance from the state Department of Public Instruction released last week gave local school leaders across Wisconsin a better idea of what they should consider while formulating plans for another school year in the midst of a pandemic.
Among the highlights from the guidelines: Schools should expect the coronavirus threat to continue for another 18 months, and be flexible and ready to offer alternative learning options like shortened weeks, days dedicated to deep cleaning, and blends of in-person, physically distanced and virtual learning.
Even then, there are many unknowns: the state of the pandemic in September, whether students, teachers and staff will be willing to return to school; and how much funding schools will have for extra cleaning and ensuring social distancing guidelines are followed in classrooms and on buses.
The vast majority of districts across the Fox Valley are in the process of surveying staff and families to gauge how comfortable they’d be returning to school, or have already completed them.
School district officials in Neenah, Kimberly and Kaukauna say their goal is to reopen schools and resume in-person instruction.
Judy Baseman (Photo: Courtesy of the Appleton Area School District, Courtesy of the Appleton Area School District)
Others aren’t ready to commit to a single plan because they aren’t sure in-person school will be an option in the fall if there’s a resurgence of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 15,000 Wisconsinites since March.
“The ideal situation is to balance the safety of our students first and foremost with the best educational opportunities we can provide,” said Appleton schools Superintendent Judy Baseman. “Of course, we want our kids back in the classroom with our staff, face to face. But we also have to balance that with what we know about the conditions within our community and the transmission.”
“That’s the hard part: We don’t know because it’s an incredibly fluid situation,” she said.
Ultimately, it’s up to individual school district officials to decide if, when and how they’ll reopen school buildings and resume in-person learning. The 87-page guidance from DPI isn’t a mandate, and only local and state health officials can order school closures if the virus surges in the state again.
Here’s a look at what area school administrators are thinking so far.
This story will be updated to reflect Fox Valley schools’ most up-to-date reopening plans as they’re announced.
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Appleton Area School District
The region’s largest school district hasn’t yet made a decision regarding how school will look come fall, Baseman said, but they’re considering three scenarios: Fully in-person learning, blended learning and fully virtual learning.
Baseman anticipates the school board will make a decision sometime in July. Work groups are currently convening and district leadership is tapping the expertise of their school nurses and local health officials, she said.
The district surveyed parents last week, asking about what concerns they have right now, what method of instruction they prefer and safety precautions they want in place before they would send kids back to school. Once those results are processed, Baseman said, they’ll survey teachers and staff members.
Baseman said district leadership and the school board will also use the results of a parent survey conducted this spring to make adjustments to distance and virtual learning, should the state of the pandemic make it necessary to use that method again.
Already, she said, the district has used feedback from parents to make changes. For example, the district now only uses one online learning management system, Canvas, after parents complained about having to learn multiple systems, Baseman said.
“We’re doing our best to create a situation where if we do have to go virtual for an extended time frame, that we have really high quality, engaging practices, learning from what we experienced earlier and making improvements along the way,” Baseman said.
Baseman asked the community to continue “best safety practices” through the summer months, like wearing masks, socially distancing and increased hand-washing.
“What we do now as a community impacts what the state of our pandemic will be when some of those decisions need to be made,” Baseman said. “We need to work together. It’s our community.”
Oshkosh Area School District
The district, which serves about 10,000 students, is planning to survey parents in late July, schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright wrote to parents in a letter last week.
Cartwright said the district is considering a range of reopening scenarios, including fully in-person learning, blended learning and fully virtual learning.
A formal plan will be released “as soon as possible as we draw closer to September of 2020,” she wrote.
Neenah Joint School District
Neenah District Administrator Mary Pfeiffer (Photo: Courtesy of Neenah schools)
Neenah is considering four options for school next year, but Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer said it’s her hope that the district will fully reopen Sept. 1.
“There’s something to be said about being in person and the need to be together,” Pfeiffer said. “I think the mental health and well-being of not only our students, but also our staff is important to consider. … There are a lot of emotional challenges that come with not being able to be with your friends, not being able to talk to your teacher or give them a hug.”
“I don’t want to be part of creating a lost generation,” she added. “Even with today’s technology, there are difficulties. … We have to find a way to create a space, a desire and an excitement for students to be back at school safely.”
She acknowledged that the pandemic and the arrival of a fall spike in COVID-19 cases could upend that plan.
The district is currently considering four options, she said: All students attending school in person, some students attending in person, all students attending virtually, and intermittent virtual learning.
Pfeiffer said the district plans to survey the community as the school board and administration continue to develop the district’s “Rocket Reentry Plan.”
For now, Pfeiffer said the district’s focus is on its soft reopening on July 6, when the majority of the district’s staff will be able to return to school buildings.
“We believe we’re going to learn a lot from that,” she said.
Kaukauna Area School District
Although this point of the summer typically is a time for students, families, teachers and administrators to relax, Kaukauna schools Superintendent Mark Duerwaechter knows that’s not happening right now.
“What does September 2 look for us? I know that’s the question on everybody’s minds right now,” he said.
The district is in the early stages of planning, Duerwaechter said, and its reopening task force is putting together a survey reflecting on last school year and what families think school should look like in fall.
Duerwaechter said he already feels confident the district’s virtual offerings will improve from last year. While only students in grades five through 12 had their own district-provided devices last year, the school board has expanded the program to all grades.
Duerwaechter said the district has a “strong desire” to open the school year in a traditional, five days a week experience, noting that the district is pondering some of the learning models included in DPI’s guidance.
According to one DPI model, students could learn by rotating through learning stations on a fixed schedule. A teacher might instruct a small group of students, while a floating teacher or paraprofessional looks over another group of students as they complete independent learning or collaborative activities.
Under another model, students would learn independently through online coursework and lectures, while teachers would use in-person class time for teacher-guided practice activities or projects.
The district also is considering other options that are similar to that of other districts, Duerwaechter said.
The district aims to release official plans by the end of July or early August.
Kimberly Area School District
Because the majority of families reported in a survey they want to return to in-person instruction, that’s the route the Kimberly Area School District plans to take.
However, the district will also offer a virtual option for those who do not feel comfortable returning, according to a letter from Superintendent Robert Mayfield that was sent to district families earlier this month.
Parents will be asked to select which instructional model they prefer in August.
Little Chute Area School District
The district appears to be in the early planning stages for next year.
In a Facebook post last week, the district announced it would survey families for input.
Hortonville Area School District
The Hortonville Area School District hasn’t released formal plans for the fall yet, but survey results suggest it’ll lean toward resuming in-person learning.
According to results of a parent survey published on the district’s website, nearly 85% said they’d prefer at school learning for all students.
However, about 80% of parents also supported having a flexible option that allows parental choice for students to learn at home at any point during the academic year.
And, nearly 60% of parents said they wouldn’t encourage their children to wear a mask to school
Contact reporter Samantha West at 920-996-7207 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @BySamanthaWest.
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