Clintonville debates learning model
Tensions run high at school board meeting
By Bert Lehman
A discussion about students returning for in-person learning five days a week became heated at the Feb. 8 Clintonville School Board meeting.
The board continues to discuss its in-person and virtual learning platform at each of its meetings.
Parents and school staff also continue to express their opinions on the topic during public comments.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, Superintendent David Dyb said the issue involves what to do with the students who are doing all virtual learning if the district were to return to in-person learning five days a week.
He relayed this same issue to the board at its last meeting.
Dyb said school staff has indicated if they do not have the time on Wednesdays to prepare for both in-person and virtual learning, it will not be able to offer both types of learning.
“The district has an obligation to provide for all students in some way shape or form,” Dyb said. “This (four days of in-person learning) is a way to achieve that, we feel, while allowing kids the opportunity to thrive with this current model.”
Board President Lori Poppe expressed frustration with residents that information shared at board meetings, “gets pulled apart, nit-picked, and so forth.”
“We appreciate that you guys are listening to what we’re saying, but please listen to all of it,” Poppe said. “We care just as much as you guys care about getting our kids back in school. We really do. Alright. We’re not trying to hide anything. I guarantee that.”
When asked by Poppe if the district was trying to hide anything, Dyb said, “No.”
Four-day in-person learning
Later in the discussion, board member Ben Huber said several teachers told him there are less classroom interruptions by students in the four days of in-person learning platform than five days of in-person learning.
He also claimed there is less bullying and harassment in a four-day-a-week in-person learning platform.
“There are true mental health advantages of having that break,” Huber said.
A parent at the meeting said the discussion about four days versus five days of in-person learning a week would end if the district could prove those claims.
“All you have to do is prove that four days a week is more efficient and better,” the parent said.
Slapping his hand on a table while the parent was speaking, Huber made a motion to continue with the district’s current learning platform of in-person learning four days a week until March 19, the end of the third quarter of the school year.
The motion also included that the board would review the decision at its March 8 meeting.
After the motion, Board Clerk Mark Zachow tried to comment on the motion.
Poppe asked him to hold off on commenting.
“I can have a comment,” Zachow responded. “You’ve been talking the whole meeting. I’ve hardly said anything. I can say something, don’t stop me.”
After finalizing the motion, Board Vice President Laurie Vollrath asked the board members if they have “lost their minds.”
“We promised our citizens, our community that we would look at this at every meeting,” Vollrath said. “And now you’re going back on that word. Shame on you.”
Before the vote, Poppe said, “Here we are again, fighting with one another.”
During her comment, Zachow started conducting the roll call vote, but was interrupted by Poppe because there was still discussion taking place.
“We’ve had enough,” Zachow responded. “You shut me off, I’m going to shut you off.”
Poppe and Zachow debated back and forth about having further discussion.
“If I want to ask for further discussion, I can do that, and not have you tell me to stop,” Poppe said.
First motion fails
Eventually the motion failed 3-4.
Board members Jim Schultz, Kris Strauman and Huber voted in favor of the motion.
After the motion failed, Huber made another motion.
That motion was to continue with the current learning model and review it at the next board meeting.
During the discussion, Vollrath said if it is the board’s ultimate goal to get back to in-person learning five days a week, a plan that is going to work needs to be developed.
“Not a plan that has roadblocks, and says we can’t do it because of this, or we can’t do it because of that,” Vollrath said. “We need to figure something out because I think at the beginning of the school year, that should have been our ultimate plan all the way through.”
Dyb said the district has to trust its school staff.
“If the staff felt we were not doing an adequate job of educating our children, don’t you think they would tell us it’s not enough,” Dyb said.
He said school staff likes the four days of in-person learning platform, and that they are reaching the students.
He said teachers are able to use Wednesdays of each week to “tie up loose ends” so class time is not being wasted doing that.
Another member of the district also said several plans to return to in-person learning five days a week have been developed, but each plan has major cons.
Zachow said the process to open up the schools to five days of in-person learning has been dragging on too long and many people are unhappy.
“I have never seen eight people running for school board before. Eight,” Zachow said. “So, what does that tell you? People are not happy.”
After the comment, Dyb started to ask a question and was interrupted by Zachow.
“I don’t need a comment from you,” Zachow said. “I can make a comment without somebody else always having something to come back at me.”
Second motion passes
A motion to stay with the current learning platform passed, with Zachow and Vollrath voting no.
After the motion passed, Poppe said, “I think we do a good job of trying to discuss things and that’s why discussions are there. … We don’t agree all the time, correct. We do listen to our community. All of us do, and we do know that there are eight people out there going for the board. That is awesome. Kudos to those who are standing up because I was there a few years ago making that same decision that you guys are all doing, to make a change, so great, but this is sad that all of us are at each other’s throats.”