MONROE — On the heels of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction releasing its 87-page “Education Forward” document offering guidelines for schools to reopen in the fall, the School District of Monroe Board of Education met the same day to discuss what its reality might look like heading back in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 30 people tuned into the meeting via Zoom teleconference June 22 as the board talked at length about possible plans, options and issues that arose after the drafted plan was presented.
Despite the DPI’s guidelines, nothing is mandated; school boards will make decisions on how to move forward.
“They could come in and close our buildings,” Waski said of the Green County Health Department. “Anything outside of that is the board’s decision.”
The plan released by the DPI was developed with Educational Stakeholders and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It recommends that schools plan for “multiple scenarios” in case changes in infections necessitate schools closing, or reducing sizes.
Monroe’s three-stage drafted plans include many parallels with the state’s suggestions, including scenarios that provide options for in-person learning, physically-distanced learning and virtual learning. The proposed plan includes students attending at full occupancy (Plan A), a little over 50% occupancy (Plan B) or virtually (Plan C) that are dependent on local COVID-19 numbers.
The board held listening sessions via teleconference and conducted an online survey prior to its meeting to include input from parents and staff. More than 1,300 surveys were collected and a total of 170 people participated in the three listening sessions. Waski said feedback from those along with staff input was used to develop the drafted plan.
Plan A: The school would operate much like it has in the past and students would attend school each day. Staff would wear masks or face shields and additional accommodations would be made for cleanliness. Student gatherings would be reduced and the weekly schedule would be modified for more cleaning. It was noted at the meeting that maintaining a 6-foot social distance is not realistic under this plan, but effort would be made to spread out students as much as possible.
Plan B: Students would be divided into two groups where just over 50% would attend school each week in person and the other group would learn virtually. Although administrators did evaluate a plan where students would attend half days on an alternating basis or two days alternating, the proposed plan would allow for additional precautions like temperature checks, social distancing, reducing student gathering sizes, closing the Monroe High School campus for lunch and reduced movement of students inside the building.
Plan C: All students would learn virtually due to severe COVID-19 conditions in the schools or in the county.
Waski said the district is committed to those who wish to have their children attend virtually throughout the school year and a registration form for that would be released in the coming week. It is estimated that about 3-5% of families will choose this plan based on surveys.
Director of Pupil Services Joe Monroe said at the meeting that middle and high school students may not have all courses available to them if they choose only virtual learning.
Inside contact tracing will be done within the school, Waski said, so if a student were to test positive with COVID-19, information could be used to assign quarantines. Business Administrator Ron Olson said the school is working with District Nurse Samantha Kubly to locate “isolation rooms” for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Upon recommendation, the school’s HVAC system will be bringing in as much outside air as possible. The school also plans to change to more aggressive filters.
Cleaner solution, hand sanitizing stations throughout the buildings and two large cleaning/fogging machines will also be in use, Olson said.
The majority of board members showed support for a version of the Plan B option presented, but asked for clarification on some items. Criteria used to determine the plans and phases for the district will be based on the number of active COVID-19 cases in the county at a given time and the statewide COVID-19 ranking system to be used in combination with active cases in the district.
Revised criteria will be presented at the 7 p.m. July 13 board meeting and will include a custodial/cleaning plan, specify who will wear masks, discuss staff professional development and consulting with medical professionals on containment protocols. They will also discuss courses at higher risk like music or band, how to provide mental health support for students and staff and programming for at-risk students.
The board plans to approve a reopening plan at its July 27 board meeting.