Criteria approved for Ashwaubenon’s return to in-person instruction
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The school board met for more than 3 1/2 hours Dec. 9 when it heard from students and parents before approving the criteria for a return to in-person learning Jan. 11.
Testimony came from those allowed to speak before the board for 2 minutes, either remotely or in the district board room, which overflowed outside the room for attendees to be 6 feet apart for social distancing.
The speakers were applauded when they called for in-person instruction to resume and commented on problems students have faced since Ashwaubenon switched districtwide to remote instruction Oct. 1 because of COVID-19 spread in the community and not having enough substitutes in late September to cover staff absences.
The problems mentioned were missed assignments, learning not happening at home, not being able to understand concepts in remote learning, technology not always working, etc.
“Open these schools, open them now – you better hold to that Jan. 11 day and you better not waver,” Veterinarian Becky Krull said to the board. “Get our kids back where they belong to shine.”
The board unanimously approved three criteria – community spread of COVID-19, staff absences and the student attendance rate – to guide the district in making decisions to move from one instructional model to another.
The criteria were compared at the board meeting to a “check engine light” to alert the district when there is a need to assess the safety of face-to-face learning within a classroom, school or districtwide when in-person instruction is happening.
To trigger a review of whether to switch from in-person to remote instruction, board members agreed two of the three criteria would need to be above the levels they set, though that wouldn’t necessarily result in a switch from one instructional mode to another.
For community spread of COVID-19, the board decided a level above 835 out of 100,000 Brown County residents testing positive over a 14-day period for two of three consecutive school days, with the level trending up or flat, could trigger a review.
Because about a third of the students attend Ashwaubenon under open enrollment, the board agreed to use a countywide statistic.
For staff absences as they relate to teachers, that could trigger a review by being above 15 percent for two out of three consecutive school days.
Daily student absences above 33 percent at any individual building for two out of three consecutive school days could also trigger a review.
The criteria approved by the board could also be used as a guide for determining when it would be safe for returning to in-person learning while having remote instruction.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said he wants to avoid having to return districtwide to remote learning when in-person instruction resumes Jan. 11 and hopefully will be able to continue until the end of the school year in June.
Weyers, who with Jamie Averbeck, instructional technology coordinator, presented the criteria for the board’s consideration, said an individual school could end up being temporarily closed in the event of rising COVID-19 numbers affecting that building.
“There might be times where we have to shut down a building for a week or so, or whatever the case may be,” he said.
After remote instruction takes place districtwide Jan. 4-8 for the first week of school following the holiday break, the schedule for in-person instruction in grades 4K-5 calls for dividing the students in two groups Jan. 11-12 with the green cohort being in-person the first day and remote the second day with the yellow cohort having remote instruction the first day and being in-person the second day.
Starting Jan. 13, the schedule calls for all 4K-5 students to be in-person, though those not comfortable about returning to school will be able to continue virtual learning through the end of the school year.
Students in grades 6-12 will also have remote instruction districtwide Jan. 4-8, then be split into two groups starting Jan. 11 to alternate days of in-person and remote instruction.
Weyers said alternating between in-person and remote instruction would take place for grades 6-12 for two weeks with the possibility in-person learning could be held five days a week for those grades when the second semester starts Jan. 25.
Though the schedule for grades 6-12 currently shows alternating days of in-person and remote instruction, he said the goal is to return the upper grades in-person five days a week Jan. 25, with the board re-evaluating the situation with COVID-19 spread at its next meeting Jan. 13.
When students began the school year in September, those choosing the in-person option in grades 4K-5 were in school five days a week with two groups in grades 6-12 alternating between in-person and remote instruction to provide social distancing in the upper grades.
When asked about having all in-person students in grades 6-12 together and keeping them safe from COVID-19, Weyers said the district’s mitigation strategies, such as wearing masks, Plexiglas and sanitizing, would continue to be used along with larger areas for teaching, noting it wouldn’t be possible to have social distancing with 30 students in a math class, like before the pandemic.
Weyers said the board has also heard from people who are passionate about not returning to in-person learning.
He said students will be given the option of learning virtually for the remainder of the school year.
Following the board meeting, the district contacted parents/guardians of students as to whether they want to shift from the district’s learning plan to virtual learning, or vice versa, with a response sought by Dec. 16 to make a change.
Families choosing the virtual learning model were asked to commit to that model for the third quarter in grades 5K-5 and the second semester in grades 6-12.
“We need to be able to handle those choices with staff, so we’re going to have to make some staffing decisions, based on what people choose,” Weyers said.
He said the district would presume students will stay with the same learning option if it didn’t hear back from parents/guardians.
Weyers said a grievance filed last month by a group of school employees expressing concerns about workplace safety related to the district’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been resolved.
The remedy sought included the district adequately mitigating all safety measures outlined in the grievance before returning to in-person instruction.
Weyers said he and Business Director Keith Lucius met last month with staff members and talked through their concerns.
“As a result of our meeting, we feel that these concerns have been addressed,” Weyers and Lucius stated in their response dated Nov. 24. “We encourage any staff member to come forward if they have any concerns or feel the need for safety equipment or supplies.”