Partial return to in-person learning backed in Ashwaubenon
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The school board voted 4-1 Wednesday, Nov. 11, in favor of bringing students back to the classroom for a portion of the school week, starting Nov. 30.
Ashwaubenon, which offered a virtual option along with in-person instruction to begin the school year, switched districtwide Oct. 1 to remote instruction because of COVID-19 spread in the community.
The board voted Nov. 2 to extend remote learning through the Thanksgiving break, but also directed district administration to put together a plan to bring students back to the classroom after that time.
Board Treasurer Michelle Garrigan, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the statistics related to the spread of COVID-19 in the community didn’t support the district’s guidelines for having students in school.
“I think it’s pretty bad right now,” she said.
Two key indicators the district used related to the spread of COVID-19 in Brown County over a 14-day period are the burden rate, which is the number of county residents per 100,000 testing positive, and the percentage of positive tests.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said those numbers on Nov. 9 were 1,139 and 41.1 percent, compared to 835 and 15.4 percent when the district decided in late September to switch to remote instruction.
The district, which has allowed small groups of students in the schools for short durations during the remote instruction period, such as on Wednesdays at the high school for shop projects and labs, also put measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the start of the school year.
Prior to the switch to remote learning, 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.
Students uncomfortable about returning in-person have been allowed to continue virtual learning since classes began Sept. 1.
Board Vice President Brian Van De Kreeke said he hasn’t seen any data, articles or information showing COVID-19 is being spread in schools.
“There’s just nothing out there,” he said. “The bigger issue is the community spread. That’s the parents that are either going out to the grocery store or coming into other establishments, or even coming into the school.”
Because the district had staffing absences and wasn’t able to fill all its positions when it switched to remote learning this fall, Van De Kreeke said Ashwaubenon needs to use “all of our staff in the best way we possibly can.”
“If that means shifting their teaching skills from one area to another to fill in if we do have absences, that would be an important thing,” he said.
To get substitute teachers to commit exclusively to Ashwaubenon and agree not to substitute in neighboring districts, Weyers said the district is offering daily substitutes the long-term substitute rate, increasing their daily pay from $152 to $222.
Board Secretary Jennifer Vyskocil, who also is a substitute teacher in the district, said it’s valuable for students to be back in school.
“I think there are kids that are hurting and need to see their teacher and be in-person, and I do believe that,” she said.
Vyskocil said she realizes not everyone will be happy with the board’s decision.
“I know we’re not going to be able to make a right decision,” she said. “Not everybody’s going to be happy, and I’ve been struggling a lot, because I like to do things to make people happy, and you just can’t.”
The plan approved by the board until the winter break called for one day a week of in-person instruction from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, two days of in-person instruction from Dec. 14-18 and remote learning Dec. 21-22.
For the first two weeks, the plan divided 4K-5 students in two groups to attend school in-person either Tuesday (yellow cohort) or Thursday (green cohort).
Remote learning was also scheduled Monday, Tuesday and Fridays for the green cohort and Monday, Thursday and Friday for the yellow cohort.
Students in grades 6-12 for the first two weeks were also divided in two groups and scheduled to attend school in-person once a week with three other designated remote learning days.
On Wednesdays in the first two weeks, that day was scheduled districtwide for remote learning with small group instruction and individual learning continuing along with teacher planning and collaboration.
From Dec. 14-18, 4K-12 students will be in two groups alternating when they would attend in-person and have remote learning, except for Wednesday, with the green cohort having in-person instruction Monday and Thursday and the yellow cohort learning in-person Tuesday and Friday.
“Every student would have two days in-person,” Weyers said. “Some might have three (days in-person), depending on whether or not they came in on Wednesdays for a portion of the day.”
Wednesday was once again scheduled districtwide for remote learning with small group instruction and individual learning continuing along with teacher planning and collaboration.
On a separate motion, the board agreed 5-0 to allow small groups of student-athletes involved in winter sports at the high school to begin practicing, starting Nov. 16 with girls’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ hockey and beginning Nov. 23 with boys’ basketball, wrestling and boys’ swimming.
Nick Senger, high school activities director, said masks will be required for practices, except for swimming, as well as sanitizing measures being put in place.
“Any competition that’s scheduled is not until late in that first week of December, Dec. 4-5, so all those teams will have the opportunity to get their minimum number of practices in,” he said. “And even if someone joins late, we’re not going to hold that against that individual.”
In addition to the number of events being reduced for teams this winter, Senger said fans will not be allowed to attend sporting events in December at Ashwaubenon, but that could change in subsequent months to allow a limited number of spectators.
Unlike sports typically held in fall being moved to spring at Ashwaubenon, Senger said there’s no place to move the winter sports season.
“The winter season is November through February,” he said. “The WIAA has said, ‘Make the best decision based on what your community wants to do.’ It won’t look the same.”
The board scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, Nov. 19, to consider whether to continue with remote learning through the winter break, based on COVID-19 numbers since the last meeting, with the administrative team asking the board to also consider remote learning the first week after the break (Jan. 4-8) to allow families to be aware of close contacts from gatherings over the holidays prior to returning to school.
“We believe it to be a proactive measure in keeping our schools safe and in mitigating potential spread as a result of such gatherings,” Weyers said.