MONROE — In their March 31 meeting held via Zoom, a videoconferencing service, the School District of Monroe Board of Education heard from District Administrator Rick Waski regarding district operations during the ongoing school closure due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
He went through a timeline of how much has changed as Gov. Tony Evers announced statewide school closings and Monroe closed March 16. Initially, that closing was for two and a half weeks, and Waski said the plan was to resume after Monroe’s spring break, which is April 6-10.
Days later, Evers issued his “Safer at Home” order that left schools closed through April 24, and most recently, President Donald Trump extended social distancing guidelines through April 30.
“A lot has happened in a short period of time,” Waski said. “It’s an ever-changing process — things are changing rapidly — and not just for us.”
Waski said the Department of Public Instruction has alluded to the possible preparation plans for students not returning for the duration of the school year.
“I don’t anticipate we will return to school April 27,” Waski said. “I’m being really candid — I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
As the dates were pushed further out by the governor, Waski said it became apparent that Monroe needed to look into providing home-based education. A survey was sent out to gauge technology and resources in homes and the possibility of instruction there; more than 80% of families responded.
“We do have some gaps,” Waski said. He noted that not all homes had access to technology and internet and some homes had children who were solely responsible for childcare for younger siblings and others, which poses issues.
The school is currently narrowing down homes with unreliable internet and after spring break will provide more formalized instructional programming for students.
Some will be given “packet-based” curriculum where technology won’t be an issue. Others will be provided with a “hot spot” to allow for an internet connection, he said. Satellite and cable companies and cellular companies are currently allowing assistance in different ways, but Waski said families need support for that too.
Middle school and high school students will likely end up with pass/fail instead of lettered grades, which Waski said is what almost every Badger Conference school is now following during this time.
For the last two weeks, Waski said students have been provided with options that weren’t necessarily graded. With both a middle school and high school student at home, he said he’s seeing “creative instruction” being done from dedicated teachers and support staff.
Because Waski is the superintendent in a county seat, he is required to attend all of the emergency management briefings held three times per week with a wide variety of personnel including the sheriff, fire chief, city and government officials along with the Green County Health Department members, staff from Monroe Clinic and others. The meetings are now happening via Zoom, he said. Conversations circle around logistics, emergency management, communications, supplies and “everything you can imagine,” he said.
“The cases are slowly increasing,” Waski said. “We’re doing the best we can as a relatively small county. More people will get sick and the cases in Green County will increase.”
The school buildings have all undergone a deep clean, Waski said, and before students are allowed back, those buildings will likely go through another deep cleaning process.
“I’m continuously inspired by not only our staff but by our community,” Waski said. “The one thing everybody can do to make this situation better is to stay home.”
Graduation, currently slated for May 31, is an event on the horizon many are wondering about, Waski said. It will be addressed more in detail as the date gets closer.
“Graduation — we intend to have one if we can,” he said. “We just don’t know when it will be.”
Things that have been worked out and are running smoothly include the meal delivery program, Waski said. Breakfast and lunch are being delivered daily to homes for those in need and on Fridays some students receive a bag of food for the weekend through the Backpack Buddies program.
Staff are currently being paid normal wages, Waski said, and some have tough jobs to do from home. At the April 13 board meeting, the board will be asked to approve a compensation plan moving forward.
In other matters, the board:
● Approved several donations to the Backpack Buddies program. Along with several local donations that included thousands of dollars from churches, civic groups, businesses and individuals, board member Teresa Keehn reported another $3,415 donated through the United Way website. “I just think it’s phenomenal,” board member Jim Plourde said.
● Like almost all of the schools in the state, Waski said Monroe filed a waiver with the Department of Public Instruction on the hours of instruction requirement which he said will likely be approved. However, a public hearing is required and will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, April 13.
● Heard from Director of Pupil Services Joe Monroe on the mental health services being provided during the school closure. He said that they’re working to get things in place that include tele-help lines and support to people in their homes.