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Green Bay looks at off-site learning support struggles

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school board spent hours Monday, Aug. 17 discussing the ripple effect the decision to begin the 2020-21 school year virtually is having on district families at its meeting.

When the board approved the plan earlier this month, many worried about how it would affect the district’s most vulnerable families.

Over the past several weeks, the district’s Out of School Time Work Group has been connecting with community partners to assess the willingness and capacity to help families who are in need of additional support during this time.

From that work, Lisa Johnson, coordinator of Extended Learning Programs, said approximately 775 additional seats for school-aged children were identified within community partners to provide childcare that would support off-site student learning.

Two of the major community organizations offering up support space include the Greater Green Bay YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club.

Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau said she is concerned the community partner slots are open to all area students.

“Our district is not the only district that is being invited into these facilities,” she said. “We are speaking to this as it is just our district, and we know that that is just not the case. We are talking about it like those 775 are ours, that we have first right of refusal, and we don’t.”

Johnson said the work group will continue to work with other community partners for support and a list will be sent out to families soon detailing their options.

She said many of them will have sliding fee scales.

“I think the work that has been outlined about working with community partners and finding opportunities has been very good,” said Trustee Andrew Becker. “And that is an important piece of the puzzle. But it’s not enough. I can’t even imagine that the 775 slots being even remotely close to the needs of our families.”

Becker said he wants to see the district provide its own extended learning support option using district staff and district or community facilities.

Superintendent Steve Murley said he understands the board’s frustration.

“We are trying to be as creative as we can, but we do have structures and regulations we have to work within, and as frustrating as that is, I don’t know how to get around that,” Murley said.

This type of support service, which Legal Counsel Melissa Thiel Collar said is essentially childcare, would fall under the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), not the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), and the district would not be able to offer it because of a variety of licenses it does not have.

“I know you are looking for a gray area, but there isn’t gray area,” Murley said. “There is either education in which it’s kids in classrooms with teachers and it’s governed by the DPI. Or, it’s childcare and it’s in any kind of a setting that’s not your home and then that is governed by DHS. I understand your desire to provide an extended learning space, and call it by any other name that we want to, but it’s my understanding that that still operates under DHS regulations.”

Murley said he will follow up with the DPI and the DHS for further direction.

The board requested a tally of district students that are filling up the 775 slots.

Johnson said she will provide it to the board as soon as she can.

“We are all frustrated by this, and we all understand that this is an enormous challenge for our entire community, and we don’t have any good solutions for it,” Murley said. “We have reached out to the big five school districts, we’ve reached out to other school districts in the Fox River Valley, nobody else has a solution for this either. This isn’t a problem that lends itself to an easy solution. We aren’t the only community that is struggling with this.”

Virtual learning

The board also got a glimpse of what the virtual start of school will look like for students come Sept. 1.

Deputy Superintendent Vicki Bayer walked trustees through the structure of a typical day for students, which will start with an advisory or homeroom period for middle and high school students and community circle time for elementary students.

Bayer said teachers have been hard at work preparing for online instruction, which has included training on best practices for student engagement.

Bayer said the fall approach to online learning will be different than what was offered in the spring, and will closer resemble a normal school day with a full day of instruction and engagement on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays being used as a review/catch up day.

“We all share the concern about a student staring at a computer for hours,” Bayer said. “All new lessons will be recorded for those students for whatever reason might not be able to log in at that particular time when a course begins.”

Bayer said a number of teachers and staff will also be available after school hours for parents and students to reach out to for help.

More details on start times and building-specific daily schedules will be released soon.

Gating criteria

The board also discussed a possible change to the gating criteria to move to a blended learning model, and then to in-person instruction.

Currently, the plan calls for a two-week average of positive test rates for the county to be at or below 5 percent.

The district is now waiting for new guidelines from DHS, which would assess community spread, trajectory and levels of burden of COVID-19 on a high- to low-risk scale.

Murley said the complete guidelines haven’t been released yet, but he is hopeful they will come soon.

The board plans to meet, most likely next Monday, after the the new guidelines are released to update the gating criteria.

“Once the board makes that determination where those break points are then the administrative team will develop what the transition model will be for those,” Murley said.

Positive cases within district programs

The district’s athletics program has been affected by COVID-19 for a second time this summer.

Lori Blakeslee, director of communications, confirmed a positive COVID-19 case, which resulted in the quarantine of an unknown number of students and staff for a two-week period.

“(The positive case) was an individual involved in our strength and conditioning (program) at the high school level,” Blakeslee said.

Blakeslee said there was a previous positive case this summer, also in the athletics program, which required quarantine as well.

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