MONROE — After hours of discussion and a handful of meetings, the School District of Monroe unanimously approved its plan for students to return to school in the fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 190 people were tuned in at one point during the special meeting held via Zoom teleconference July 21.
Although more details will come, District Administrator Rick Waski encouraged the plan’s approval so parents could start to prepare and school officials could begin implementing specific plans for each building.
The approved plan allows the school three options to return in the fall and also a “Plan H” for families who choose entirely virtual learning. In Plan H, students will be assigned a specific virtual teacher that won’t necessarily be from their homeroom or building. About 130 students have signed up for Plan H, but parents have until Aug. 7 to decide.
Waski said many other school districts in Green County haven’t spent the time presenting details, offering surveys, holding listening sessions and gleaning input the way Monroe has.
“I want the public to have a clear picture,” Waski said. “I don’t think there is any perfect plan.”
During public comment, several chose to use their allotted five minutes to speak to the board and included teachers, parents and community members.
Stacy Cavanaugh, a parent of a student at Parkside Elementary School, acknowledged “privilege” that allows she and her husband the use of internet and working from home. However, she asked the board to take others into consideration when making a decision.
“Please consider not just those of us who have privilege, but those who may have less privilege … and please support the teachers,” she said.
Ryan Strunz spoke, not as the liaison for the Monroe Education Association as he serves, but instead as a concerned teacher in the district with the endorsement of 28 staff members. Although Strunz said he did endorse the reopening plans thus far, he asked for consideration regarding the classification status used to move between plans.
“It is my firm belief that the classification status for each level of the reopening plan should be directly tied to the activity levels listed on the Wisconsin DHS site,” Strunz said.
The board’s current plan is to use decision making criteria through the state classification system that breaks down counties by activity level based on number of cases. Monroe would fall into Plan A if Green County fell into a “low and medium” category but would move to Plan B in the “high” category. The district administrator would have the authority to move to Plan B based on active cases among students, staff and public health trends in the community. Waski could also move students to Plan C based on high levels of COVID-19 or a lack of ability to staff school buildings since those exposed to anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Strunz suggested the board consider instead using Plan A when Green County falls into the “low” category, Plan B when the county is into a “medium” category and Plan C when the county is in the “high” category.
Steve Borowski addressed the board as well, asking them to look at more data.
“I agree wholeheartedly that this is all about the safety of individuals,” he said. “I think what is imperative is when we consider the health and safety of our students, teachers and society is that we have to consider this as more — much, much more — than COVID-19.”
Borowski referenced studies that touched on things like depression, mental health, drug addictions and overdoses, relationship challenges and the lack of ability for students to develop relationships in isolation. He said the societal impact of the overall health of children should be taken into consideration.
Monroe High School teacher Susan Anderson said her husband works at a different district building and her children also attend the school, potentially exposing her family to hundreds of other households daily. She asked that the board consider whether the measures in place were feasible, asking them to “walk in our shoes” referring classrooms unable to provide adequate social distancing for some. She proposed the board to consider entirely online learning with a caveat: leaving the buildings open as a resource.
The board spent the majority of the meeting in follow-up discussion from past meetings to address concerns. One item addressed included offering elementary school parents more flexibility when dividing students into the A and B groups in Plan B. It will now be considered under valid circumstances as long as it doesn’t hinder the purpose of spacing students.
The board also recently met up with local childcare centers and is looking at ways to partner with them. The school could possibly supply an “academic coach” to help with virtual learning for some groups of students while childcare staff would provide things like snacks and activities.
The coach could help students with things like staying on task, tuning into live lessons and troubleshooting on devices. Waski said instructional aides could possibly be assigned to community sites branched from the childcare providers. The school also hopes to provide a financial assessment for families and could team up with local community agencies to help families who cannot afford the unexpected childcare expenses.
“We certainly can’t fill the need for everybody, but this is a start,” Waski said.
Building principals were in attendance to talk to the board about what a Plan B week might look like for students during at-home learning. They all touched on specifics that included more facetime, more routine, attendance, requirements and prerecorded and archived lessons for when “life happens” and students can’t tune in at specific times.
Students will still be able to participate in clubs virtually during at home learning, although the clubs could change focus and goals this year.
Business Administrator Ron Olson discussed high-risk staff members and possible accommodations the school could offer them. Olson said current guidelines say that those over age 65 are considered “high risk” for COVID-19 as well as a long list of conditions that also place some into a “high risk” category.
Olson said staff the school could work on offering additional PPE, adding more barriers, removing non-essential job duties or offering a space to wash more regularly.
The school board will meet again July 27 to continue its discussion for the reopening plan.