Green Bay modifies reopening criteria for return to classrooms
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – A recent decline in the COVID-19 burden rate in Brown County prompted the Green Bay school board to modify its reopening criteria Monday, Dec. 14, which could bring some students back to the classroom as early as Dec. 17.
The change comes after dozens of parents, students and community members gathered outside the district office Dec. 12, and rallied for a return to classrooms.
After hours of discussion, trustees voted on the criteria in two parts.
The first, calls for a return of special education students, as well as some in-person options for athletics, co-curriculars and specialized education classes (such as art, agriculture and automotive), as long as positivity rates remain below 1,000 per 100,000 over a two-week period.
“They’re specialized courses for which we could not meet either specific needs of the entire course or parts of the entire course in an online environment,” said Superintendent Steve Murley.
Special education classes, as well as several specialized classes, were held on-site until October.
This would be the first time athletics and extracurricular activities would be allowed this school year.
Coaches, instructors and advisors of these activities need to apply with district administration for approval.
The board voted unanimously to approve this portion of the plan.
“Going from never to one or two things on campus, that many kids would have every week, that starts to change things a little,” said Trustee Andrew Becker. “It doesn’t solve the problem, but it does make a lot of things better. So, I’ll be cautiously optimistic about what this might do.”
Staff will also be allowed to return to classrooms to teach virtually.
The second part adjusts the district’s trigger to move between off-site learning and blended models from 200 to 250 cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period.
This portion didn’t receive the same support – passing 4-3 with Eric Vanden Heuvel, Becker, Brenda Warren and Kristina Shelton in favor, and Dawn Smith, Rhonda Sitnikau and Laura McCoy opposed.
Once the burden rate in Brown County falls below 250 per 100,000 residents for a two-week period, a transition to the hybrid model would begin.
On Monday, the 14-day rate reported by the district was 691 cases per 100,000 residents.
The hybrid plan brings all 4K through sixth graders and freshmen back to classrooms four days a week.
The model has students in grades 7-8 and grades 10-12 remaining in a virtual learning platform until COVID-19 cases drop more.
Murley said the phased return of students is designed to give teachers and staff time to adjust classrooms and common spaces.
However, he said social distancing will be a challenge.
“We do want to make it abundantly clear to parents that we are going to struggle with that optimal 6-foot distance at all times,” he said. “We will certainly do our best to maximize space, but we do want to make sure there is not a false expectation that we will have 6-foot distancing at all times.”
The board will revisit a possible rotation model for grades 6-12 Jan. 11.
Murley said the next step is finding out how many students plan to return to classrooms when the numbers allow it.
A survey will be sent out to all district parents Dec. 16.
Parents will have until Dec. 23 to respond.
“We will reach out to families who have not responded and get a response to make sure they’re placed according to their needs and desires,” Murley said.
Families interested in remaining virtual through the remainder of the year will have that option.
More than 15 people spoke during Monday’s public forum, and hundreds more contacted school board members and administration prior to the meeting.
“We all want our kids back in school, but we need to look at the bigger picture,” said parent Kellie Delveaux. “You do have parents out here in the district that do support what you (the school board) are doing. I think you guys are being very wise in listening to the health experts and looking at the criteria for it to be safe. I think other districts that have done the kind-of back-and-forth, jumped the gun a little bit. We are a much bigger district and it’s difficult to compare us to even De Pere or Howard-Suamico.”
At times, there were as many as 1,000 viewers watching the meeting.
“If you give the opportunity for some of us to be able to go back to school, we aren’t saying open school and make everybody go back to school, but at least leave that option out there,” said parent Jamie Jacques. “Your classroom sizes would be smaller if it’s true that so many people want their kids to stay home. Well, then stay home. You don’t have to send your kids to school. But let the people like us, that need our children back in school, the opportunity to do so.”
Vanden Heuvel said he recognizes the complexity of the issue.
“I think that there is an unanimous consensus that we want kids back in school,” he said. “Now more than ever, we want our kids back in school. We know that is the best place for them and we know the role that public education plays. Where we differ is how we do that. There is a wide spectrum of where you fall on that. Our challenge as a board is to decide how we move. I know there is not agreement among our board members, just like there is not agreement in our community.”
The board also approved adjusting graduation requirements, as well as additional grading options at the meeting.