Waupaca discusses resuming classes
Risk levels will determine learning models
By Robert Cloud
Facing an uncertain future, the Waupaca School District is considering three instructional models for the 2020-21 academic year.
Each model is based on the pandemic’s level of severity when classes resume in the fall.
The models range from traditional classroom instruction, to a blend of virtual learning and classroom instruction, to virtual learning.
The district may shift from one model to another if circumstances change.
At a special school board meeting Friday, June 26, District Administrator Ron Saari said the preferred model would be to resume traditional classroom instruction, keeping student and staff safety in mind.
If Waupaca returns to the traditional model, families will be allowed to choose to have their children learn online.
“We want to return to the classrooms in a safe way,” Saari said, noting that 20-25% of students may choose to learn virtually.
The meeting focused not on making decisions yet, but on what the options are.
To reopen classrooms, the district needs to make changes in operating procedures at its buildings.
Certain areas will require plexiglass barriers, and adhesive tape will be used on the floors in hallways and common spaces to encourage social distancing.
Safety signage will encourage hand washing and social distance and offer guidelines about symptoms and screenings.
The district plans to install sanitation stations in various locations in all four buildings.
Among the issues that have not been resolved yet are lockers.
“We want to reduce areas and places for students to gather as we try to maximize social distancing,” Saari said. “At the same time, we realize there could be some concerns with backpacks in rooms as well.”
Drinking water poses another unresolved issue that requires further consideration.
The district is looking at options to provide either bottle filling stations or cups that can be used only one time.
Furniture in the classrooms will need to be rearranged or removed to keep students a safe distance from each other.
Each building will need an isolation room for students who have symptoms of COVID-19.
The district also plans to modify the ventilation systems in order to increase the circulation of outside air into the buildings, Saari said.
Entrances into the schools will be modified to limit visitors and reduce contact among students.
There may be staggered use of communal spaces and increased cleaning and sanitizing of the buildings.
Saari said there may be times when students eat lunch in their classrooms.
Saari said a survey found that 50% of parents said their students would be self-transporting.
He encouraged parents who will no longer be using the bus to contact Go Riteway so the bus company could determine its routes in the most efficient way possible.
The buses will be cleaned following each route, and all adults on the bus will be required to wear face masks.
Students may be required to wear face masks if they cannot maintain safe distances while riding the bus.
Under this model, students in Early Childhood through eighth grade will be taught in a classroom setting, unless they are high risk or their parents choose virtual learning.
Elementary and middle school students may be scheduled for in-person learning four days a week, with one day of virtual learning.
High school students may be divided into two “cohorts,” with each cohort attending class two days a week and learning online three days a week.
Saari stressed these are sample schedules and may be revised.
For the virtual learning model to work, teachers must quickly identify students who are struggling to engage.
The district also needs to address student access to virtual instruction.
“We’re working on getting additional hot spots, internet access is a concern, cameras for classroom instruction,” Saari said. “What we’re talking about there is the streaming and making sure the students can see the screens.”
Streaming allows students to communicate with teachers if they have questions.
Instruction would also be scheduled so students tune in at a specific time.
Schoology, a learning management program, will help teachers monitor when students are attending virtual classes and keep track of their progress.
The district will probably move between the different learning models based on the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the risk for the spread of the coronavirus is low, pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students will return to the classrooms (except for those who want to learn virtually), with safety guidelines in place regarding ventilation, cleaning and sanitizing, and transportation.
Classroom learning will continue if there is a moderate risk, but safety guidelines for common areas will be initiated.
If the risk is moderately high, pre-K through eighth-grade students will continue traditional classroom learning, while high school students will spend three days learning virtually and two days in class. All common areas will be closed.
All high school students will learn online if the risk is determined to be high. Elementary and middle school students will continue in-person learning, but will be kept in their classrooms as much as possible.
When the risk is deemed to be severe, the state or the county may order that all students participate in virtual learning only.
“It’s something that’s out of our hands, that we have no control over,” Saari said.
Currently, administrators from all seven school districts in Waupaca County are meeting with the county’s public health officer to develop some consistency in how they offer instruction.
The school board approved the administration’s general framework for resuming classes in the fall.
The Waupaca School District surveyed parents and staff in mid-June.
A total of 271 teachers, aides, administrators, food service, support and janitors participated in the survey.
When asked if they were willing to wear masks, 57% said yes, 8% said no, and 36% said sometimes.
The district also surveyed 668 parents.
About 43% of the total said they were comfortable with in-person learning and had no concerns.
About 34% said they were comfortable with in-person learning but had some concerns.
Among parents, 16% said they were somewhat comfortable, while 7% said they were not at all comfortable.
More than half, 57%, said they preferred at-school learning every day, while 35% indicated a preference for either a hybrid program or alternating days.
The survey found that 8% preferred virtual learning.
When asked if they would encourage their child to wear a mask to school, 53% said no and 47% said yes.
The survey asked if other students did not wear masks, would that prevent them from sending their children to school.
Seventy-seven percent said no, while 23% said yes.
When asked if wearing a mask was required, would they send their child to school, 74% said yes and 26% said no.