West De Pere looks at how to reopen schools
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – At the July 15, West De Pere school board meeting, Superintendent Dennis Krueger discussed the initial plans for reopening schools this fall.
The meeting was attended by dozens of West De Pere community members and district teachers.
“Our purpose with this meeting was to provide an update to the plan,” Krueger said. “There’s lots of fear of the unknown. None of us have been through anything like this, and schools haven’t been shut down like this in recent memory.”
Krueger said no matter how the schools reopen this fall – in-person, virtual or blended – there will be people angry with the approach.
“Similarly, if we mandate/don’t mandate the use of masks, people will be angry,” he said. “The same goes for extra-curricular activities. We’re doing our best to plan, hear the voices through the survey mechanisms and do what’s best for our community. Everybody seems to be in a similar lose-lose situation across the country with what’s decided. We know we can’t make everybody happy all the time, but we’re not accustomed to having one-third of our constituents upset.”
Krueger said it’s the district’s goal to ensure a high-quality learning experience.
“We want to help with the social and emotional needs of students and maintain safe practices at the same time,” he said. “I can tell you today – things change all the time – we’d like to open K-12, in-person, every day, but that might change tomorrow. We need to be able to pivot on a dime if someone tells us we need to shut down. If that would happen, we’d need to do that better than we did last March. We had two days to prepare, and we thought it would only be for about two weeks. If needed, we know we can offer better online services this fall than what we did last spring.”
Krueger said West De Pere is collaborating with other Brown County school districts, the local health departments and other organizations.
“We’ve also been looking at what’s going on in Europe, Los Angeles and Milwaukee,” he said. “It’s a big puzzle right now.”
He said the district is targeting the week of Aug. 3 to put out its first, formal communication plan to return Sept. 1.
“When our plan comes out in August, there might be an asterisk at the bottom of each page saying, ‘This is subject to change,’” said Krueger. “No matter what’s decided, we plan to offer remote learning to all students K-12 for those who want it. All of our staff got training this summer, and remote learning would look much different than last spring. There will be more accountability from the students and more consistency with the staff.”
He said the 10 area Brown County superintendents have been meeting once or twice weekly to discuss reopening plans.
“My prediction is we’ll be similar to our neighboring districts in how we reopen,” said Krueger. “I can tell you, three of the superintendents want all students to be brought back K-12, while the other seven want the elementary kids to come back and have a blended approach for the secondary students.”
A survey from June with 1,500 responses shows more than 60 percent of people want students to return to every day, in-person learning.
The most popular approach from West De Pere respondents was blended, with four days in-person and one day remote.
“That was a DPI potential initiative, but it requires the use of lots of outside spaces across the district to spread kids out,” said Krueger. “We don’t have that. The next best option was the Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday option.
From the survey results, we know if we go remote, at least 40 percent of the students in our district won’t have learning support from their family at home. Another 20 percent weren’t sure if they’d have support. I don’t like that, but that’s what the survey showed.”
The survey showed the biggest concern was academic progress, followed by social/emotional interactions.
Safety and mental health were third and fourth, respectively.
Krueger said 56 percent believed some masking should take place for the students, while 61 percent said some masking should take place for staff.
Some initial protocols being discussed by various committees include:
• Eliminating salad bars/self-serve and going more toward prepared meals.
• Students using identification cards to scan to pay for lunch.
• Reviewing cleaning protocols.
• Putting additional cleaning supplies in the classrooms for teachers to use.
• Placing additional hand-sanitizer stations in pocket areas (commons, gyms, etc.).
• Minimizing travel within buildings.
• Staggered lunchtimes.
• Staggered release times.
• Possibly allowing older students to carry backpacks to avoid unnecessary hallway congestion.
• Creating isolation rooms in each building away from the main office.
West De Pere families/staff will be encouraged to conduct self-screenings before coming to school, to be mindful of symptoms and know when to stay home.
If remote learning is needed, the elementary students would continue to be involved in asynchronous learning, which means students wouldn’t be logging in when their class starts and sitting live with their teachers.
This would allow younger kids to have parents at home helping when needed, possibly later in the day.
For the older students, the survey showed parents wanted more structure/routine, so it was noted junior high and high school students would be learning synchronously, meaning at the same time with a set, modified schedule.
Concerning the safety and wellness of the students/staff, the board also unanimously approved an additional four part-time health aides for the 2020-21 school year.
One aide would be placed at each school building.
The purpose of the aides would be to provide health services directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic illness.
Duties could include monitoring individuals with reported symptoms and staffing the isolation rooms.