Ashwaubenon to extend remote learning through Nov. 6
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The school board unanimously decided at a special meeting Monday, Oct. 12, to extend remote learning in the district at least another three weeks through Nov. 6.
Ashwaubenon switched districtwide Oct. 1 to virtual instruction because of the spread of COVID-19 in the community with the possibility in-person classes could resume Oct. 19, but with the option to extend remote learning.
However, after hearing a report from Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai on the virus spreading in the Brown County, which had a 15 percent positivity rate in COVID-19 tests as of Monday, the board elected to extend remote learning through the end of the first quarter.
“It’s these congregate settings – the bar, the wedding, the funeral, the birthday party – that’s causing us that issue, and it’s a lot of reasons why schools went virtual, because it’s our most common congregate setting, if you think about it,” he said. “We have a lot of evidence about spread through children, and how children spread it… We can’t tell you what to do or not to do, but we definitely do back those who have gone virtual.”
Rai said the four hospitals in the Green Bay area are in a “bed management crisis” with 120 people hospitalized with COVID-19.
“We have 250,000 people in Brown County – 120 people in the hospital might not seem like a lot – but that’s 120 beds that are occupied where we can’t take care of that next heart attack, take care of that next stroke…,” he said. “If it was an icy day, and if we had (an Interstate 41 or 43) pileup, we could not take care of that today. That’s the critical situation that we’re dealing with every day, and that’s the concern we have.”
Rai said he’s never been “more nervous and scared in my career” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Your community’s in crisis right now, and you’ve chosen to go virtual,” he said. “At some point, we’ll come out of crisis here, and we’ll define that based on bed availability and percent positivity trending down – it may not be a perfect number, but trending down. But then as you reinstitute school, it will really be about what’s going on in your buildings, and then what’s going on in the community, married together.”
Superintendent Kurt Weyers sent out a letter Tuesday, Oct. 13, addressed to Ashwaubenon families and staff about the move to extend and the district considering a possible return to in-person instruction Nov. 9, the start of the second quarter.
Weyers said it’s the district’s hope to get 4K through 12th-grade students back to in-person learning to start out the new quarter.
“We understand that having students in the remote learning model can put extra stress on parents who need to prepare for this,” he said. “We work to get families information in as timely a manner as possible, and below are our plans for making future decisions in November.”
Weyers said the district on Nov. 2 will review COVID-19 data to determine if it’s safe to return to in-person instruction and will make a decision regarding in-person instruction or continuing remote learning.
He said families and staff will be contacted Nov. 3 regarding the model of instruction that will be in place Nov. 9.
Because many families have asked how long students need to isolate or quarantine, if they have either contracted COVID-19 or have been a close contact to someone who has tested positive, Weyers said the district created an infographic to explain on the district website.
“We, as a school district, urge the members of our community to work together to mitigate the spread of this disease,” he said. “It is up to all of us to make a change in the right direction and our goal is to get back to in-person learning when it is safe to do so.”
With the vote to extend remote learning, the board also approved the offering of voluntary furloughs on a limited basis to non-teaching staff members.
Business Director Keith Lucius said the district has tried to keep all staff employed and find meaningful work for them with the switch to remote learning, but has some departments where there is not sufficient work for all staff.
“Food service is an area where the number of meals being served does not support the number of hours that the staff normally work,” he said.
Lucius said voluntary furloughs will include the district maintaining health and dental benefits, for staff members currently enrolled in the district insurance plans, and allow them to apply for unemployment benefits to replace a portion of their income.
He said staff on furlough will have re-employment rights when Ashwaubenon returns to in-person instruction, while the district would also have the ability to recall staff if the workload increased or other staff members would be in quarantine.
Lucius the district won’t have involuntary furloughs for staff members, who could be assigned meaningful work in other departments.