Green Bay continues to work on reopening plan
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – It’s still unclear what the 2020-21 school year will look like in the Green Bay school district this fall as district leaders say specific details still need work.
In his first meeting as the district’s new superintendent, Steve Murley spent more than an hour Monday, July 13, updating board members on the steps leadership and staff are taking to plan for September among the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“It is a Herculean task,” Murley said. “We really have to live with a foot in two worlds and recognize that there is going to be a lot of gray area in between.”
Currently the district is looking at offering three different instructional options – online learning, in-person learning and a hybrid approach.
Murley said nine different work groups: leadership, operations, infrastructure, health and safety, academic standards/instruction, social and emotional/behavioral health, equity, out-of-school time programs and data are made up of district leadership, teachers, staff and community members, which are working to create comprehensive plans to meet the needs of all students regardless of the three instructional models.
All groups are first focusing on the off-site learning option, learning from the lessons of the spring and building a better process for students this fall, he said.
“We know a contingent of our population that will have to have that (off-site learning), and a contingent of our population that will want to have that,” Murley said. “So we’ll build that up so that we know it’s robust and it’s ready to go.”
Next, the work groups will focus on in-person instruction.
“We know there are people who are going to choose to send their kids to school,” he said. “They want to for a variety of reasons. So we need to make sure that we have those on-site preparations for those whose parents plan to send them to school.”
Murley said it’s important to recognize there may be students or teachers/staff that need to move in and out.
“Someone at home gets sick and now they have to quarantine and are no longer able to come,” he said. “So we need to build a mechanism to provide a free and appropriate public education to students who become unable to attend school.”
Murley said it’s likely the district will look to benchmarks, whether it’s quarters or semesters, for smoother transitions for students that need to move in and out of different instructional options.
“We may have folks that get to that point that they are unwilling,” he said. “They might start in school, but then they want to move out. You may also have some parents that start outside and want to come back in. We’ll look for some smooth transitions for those students.”
The final option groups will look at is the hybrid model – with hands-on classes being held in person while others offered remotely.
Murley said a major hurdle for the district will be the secondary grade levels.
“At the secondary level, we’re going to struggle, we know it already,” he said. “How do you socially distance with 2,000 students at Preble?”
Murley said work groups are looking at how to space out students to provide opportunities for social distancing.
“I think we also recognize that whatever plan we come up with will impact every single of our students differently – the age, the academic ability, so many different factors,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, board president.
Vanden Heuvel said there’s anxiety building in the community from the unknown, especially when neighboring districts are starting to release plans.
“I know that you (Murley) don’t have all the answers and the team is doing all this work,” he said. “It’s a monumental task. As people are watching this tonight, they were probably tuning in hoping that we were going to announce some grand plan, but that’s clearly not going to happen. Green Bay is the largest district in our area, so we have more to consider.”
Murley said the guidelines from neighboring districts, including Howard-Suamico, were released to kind of test the waters.
“At our Brown County superintendents meeting, several of the area districts – and Howard-Suamico was one of them – said that they sent up kind of test balloons so they could gauge parental feedback on that, recognizing they would then use that to monitor and adjust their plan accordingly.”
Though helpful, Murley said these test balloons could cause confusion.
“One of the concerns that came out from all the superintendents was that if everyone starts sending these test balloons up all over Brown County, it could cause a lot of confusion from parents and students who may think that that is the way they are going to do it,” he said. “When really, they are just trying to test the waters and see what people’s thoughts are about that particular part of the planning process.”
Murley said the district is committed to having more finality to the planning process by the end of July.
“I think we also recognize that whatever plan we come up with will impact every single of our students differently – the age, the academic ability, so many different factors,” Vanden Heuvel said.