Ashwaubenon extends remote learning into Thanksgiving break
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The school board unanimously decided at a special meeting Monday, Nov. 2, to extend remote learning districtwide into the Thanksgiving break, but the board also directed staff to put together a plan to bring students back to the classroom after that time.
The board’s motion calls for the plan to be put together for consideration at its next regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 11.
Ashwaubenon switched districtwide Oct. 1 to remote instruction because of the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
Though the district left the possibility open in-person classes could resume Oct. 19, the board agreed Oct. 12 to extend the remote instruction another three weeks after hearing a report from Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai on the extent of the virus spreading in the Brown County.
Monday’s special meeting was set to consider whether to resume in-person instruction when the second quarter at Ashwaubenon began Nov. 9, but the board agreed the current statistics related to virus spread didn’t support the move.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said two key indicators related to the spread of COVID-19 over a 14-day period in the county increased from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2.
Weyers said the burden rate, the number of county residents per 100,000 testing positive, increased from 835 to 1,142, while the percentage of positive tests increased from 15.4 to 39.2.
“My recommendation is to continue with remote learning through Thanksgiving,” he said. “I’m very concerned about the rate, the burden rate. I’m concerned about the positivity rate, which is basically almost five times what it was when we opened up in September, when it was 8 percent, and now it’s almost 40 percent.”
Weyers said staff absences were also a key factor in the Ashwaubenon’s switch to remote learning when the district wasn’t able to get enough substitutes in late September with eight unfilled teaching positions and four unfilled support staff positions.
“Since we closed, we have gone on a recruiting trip,” he said. “We are working extremely hard to try to recruit more subs.”
To get substitute teachers to commit exclusively to Ashwaubenon and agree not to substitute in neighboring districts, Weyers said the district is giving them a “huge pay raise” to provide those daily substitutes the long-term substitute rate, increasing their daily pay from $152 to $222.
“We continue to try to lock in more subs to be (teaching) in person,” he said. “Again, we can’t say it enough we want to be (teaching) in person.”
Weyers said the number of district staff testing positive for COVID-19 or required to be in quarantine increased Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 from 13 to 24, with the latter number not making it possible to fill all the positions with enough substitutes, had the district been holding in-person classes.
He said staff in quarantine could teach remotely, but someone would need to be physically present to supervise students for the district to provide in-person instruction.
The board spent about an hour and 45 minutes at its Oct. 28 meeting discussing with district parents and staff the criteria for returning students to the classroom.
Following that meeting, surveys were sent to district parents and staff to receive feedback on how comfortable they are on having in-person instruction and what could be done better to teach remotely.
As of Monday, Weyers said parents and families of 2,092 of the 3,226 students and 283 of the 388 staff responded to the surveys, which weren’t due back until Thursday.
The preliminary survey results showed 58.2 percent of parents and families responded they were comfortable having their children attend school in-person at this time, compared to 29.5 percent being uncomfortable and another 11.7 percent not sure.
As for remote learning, nearly 43 percent rated their children’s remote learning experience as very or somewhat difficult, with another 23.8 percent rating it challenging, but getting better.
Among staff members responding as of Monday, 65.7 percent indicated they were not comfortable with returning to school in-person at this time, compared to 19.3 percent comfortable and another 15 percent unsure.
As for remote learning, 41.4 percent of staff rated their experience as challenging, but getting better, with another 26.3 percent rating it as good and close to 25 percent rating it very or somewhat difficult.
Options for returning
Prior to the switch to remote learning Oct. 1, Ashwaubenon schools had all 4K-5 students attend in-person instruction, five days a week, with safety precautions and physical distancing put in place, while students in grades 6-12 were divided in two groups to alternate every other day school was in session between in-school and at-home instruction.
Virtual learning was also offered as an option for students uncomfortable about returning in-person.
Board members said they would like to see some sort of return for students, even if they weren’t back in class five days a week, given the problems students have faced with remote learning.
Board President Jay Van Laanen said he has received feedback from parents about straight-A students who are struggling by not being in the classroom.
Van Laanen said the scientific data on the pandemic indicate there should be no way students should be coming back to school, but other data indicate “it’s safer for the kids to be in school than it is to be hanging out wherever else they’re hanging out as a group.”
“For me, I would really love to be able to say let’s try to find some type of a blended (instruction model) at least in the classroom one or two days a week, whether it’s a half day a week just to get those kids out of their homes and give the teachers a chance to get organized with these kids and get them back on track,” he said.
Board Vice President Brian Van De Kreeke suggested coming up with “hybrid solutions that give opportunities for kids to be in front of teachers, even if it’s one day a week or two days a week, or a morning or an afternoon, or what whatever it might be to get that interaction, not only with the teachers, but with their other classmates.”
“We’d like to think of ourselves as having a district that provides great education, great education experiences, and we can’t do that right now,” he said.
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Weyers urged people in the community to do a better job of avoiding larger events.
“We’ve heard there were Halloween parties with 50-some students at…,” he said. “We have to stop having these large social gatherings, if we really want to be back in school.”