By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – After having closed district schools to in-person instruction since the middle of March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a plan to reopen released Friday, July 24, includes various options to allow students to return this fall.
Dubbed Jaguar Jump Back, the district’s plan to reopen as currently drafted calls from having all 4K-5 students return Sept. 1 for in-person instruction, five days a week, with safety precautions and physical distancing put in place.
Students in grades 6-12 will be divided in two groups to alternate every other day school is in session between in-school and at-home instruction.
However, the plan to reopen also states online/virtual learning could go into effect at Ashwaubenon due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the community or individual schools.
The guidelines for safety and social distancing could also be adjusted with a change in the plan to have all students in class five days a week.
In addition, the plan to reopen allows students and families uncomfortable about coming back to school to choose a virtual learning option.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said parents are being asked by the end of July to indicate a learning preference for their children so the district will be able to plan for upcoming school year as to the number of students who will be attending in person, taking the bus to school, etc.
Based on feedback through the end of last week, Weyers said he anticipates about 10 percent of the district’s students will be learning remotely when the school year begins.
Unlike last spring when all teachers were involved in online instruction, he said certain teachers will be assigned to virtual students who do not attend classes in person.
For example, Weyers said a teacher could be assigned to instruct elementary students who previously attended either Pioneer or Valley View Elementary School.
He said 6-12 virtual students will be enrolled in self-paced courses, which are designed to cover a semester, as opposed to the alternating in-person and at-home coursework based on quarters of the school year.
Weyers said a move between learning options would be allowed during the school year, possibly going from virtual to in-person, or vice versa, with a switch able to be made after a quarter or semester, depending on the coursework.
Regardless of the learning option, he said traditional grading practices will be used.
When asked about the difference in the amount of in-person instruction planned for the grade levels, Weyers said the ideal would be to have all students in school five days a week, but space limitations don’t allow being able to have all 6-12 students in attendance at one time because of social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading.
He said the two groups of 6-12 students will be determined by alphabet with some children with different last names also kept together so that a family could have all the children attend school or be at home on the same day.
Weyers said the district’s 4K-5 students have smaller class sizes to be able to attend school in person five days a week, which also is the preferred method of teaching at the lower grades where virtual learning can be more difficult.
When district parents were surveyed in May, the 1,476 responses indicated 82.4 percent were “comfortable or very comfortable” sending students to school in fall, with 71 percent comfortable with in-person schooling, 51 percent comfortable with some in-person and some remote learning (physically distanced learning) and 23 percent comfortable with remote learning.
Weyers said Ashwaubenon is working with the Brown County Health Department, local medical providers and area schools districts in making decisions about reopening and keeping students and staff safe.
“Our plan will allow for a fluid response, keeping in mind staff, students’ and parents’ capacity as well as (Ashwaubenon School District) financial resources and available space,” he said.
The plan states breakfast and lunch will be available to all students daily, following the school calendar.
Even if students are not attending in-person classes, meals may be ordered and picked up from school.
Face mask requirement
Weyers said he believes wearing face masks, as has been the case elsewhere, will be the most controversial aspect of the reopening plan.
Though the safety measures in the plan to reopen call for face coverings for all staff and students, he said the district will allow exceptions, such as for students with a medical condition.
In addition, the plan states “it will be necessary to be patient as we begin this new requirement and especially at the elementary level.”
“We also understand that wearing a mask for seven hours is not reasonable, so mask breaks will be provided throughout the course of the day in various forms,” the plan states.
Other safety measures include physical barriers such as Plexiglas dividers, bottle filling stations only for drinking water and hand sanitizing stations.
The plan also calls for having “isolation and wellness rooms at each building to separate children with symptoms to be monitored by a school nurse or assistant until the parent or guardian arrives.”
Weyers said after-school programs are being canceled for grades 4K-5, for which interaction outside of the classroom environment is being limited, and there will be no field trips until further notice.
He said the plan also calls for restricting visitors to student supports services and holding remote meetings with parents.
As for community facilities on school grounds, Weyers said shows at the Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center are now on hold.
Weyers said the community pool has been used by the village this summer for swimming lessons, and the start of the girls’ swimming season is expected to be delayed.
He said performance training at the high school has been limited this summer to groups of 10.
Though the WIAA has been providing guidance on how to safely hold athletic practices, competitions and events,
Weyers said local schools and conferences have the option to start later.
Vote on plan
Weyers said the plan released July 24 is current as of that date and subject to change as new information becomes available.
He said the school board, which has the discretion to change the plan before approving it, is scheduled to vote on reopening the schools at its Aug. 12 meeting, the final one scheduled before classes start.