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De Pere looks at challenges to bringing older students back full time

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – It’s not yet determined when students in grades 7-12 in the De Pere school district will return to full-time in-person instruction, but it’s the prevailing goal for administration and the school board.

The De Pere school board winnowed roughly a dozen factors to consider when making that choice down to three when it met virtually Monday, Jan. 4.

The three include: the reopening metric put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the number of employees and students in quarantine; and whether social distancing can be maintained if classes are at full capacity.

Meanwhile, students up to sixth grade started back at school fulltime in person this week (Monday, Jan. 11).

Starting Jan. 19,  students in grades 7-12 return to school on a blended/hybrid model, featuring two days in school and three days of at-home virtual learning including one flex day.

For students in the De Pere Virtual Learning Academy, learning continues to be all virtual.

The three factors selected as considerations came from a list which also included the quality of virtual learning, the mental health needs of students, and possible surges in infections this month from holiday celebrations, all of which were eliminated as criteria.

Also eliminated was the possibility of a spring break surge in infection rate.

David Youngquist, board president, said the district has made the adjustments it can in regards to mental health considerations,

“Counselors and social workers are referring families to internal and external resources for any issues or concerns, schools are offering in-person and virtual extracurricular activities, and there’s probably a segment of parents and kids who would say ‘You know what? Two days in the classroom are better than zero’ for those social and mental needs,” Youngquist said.

Likewise, the district has tuned up virtual learning, including increasing the interactive components by requiring logging in for attendance in real time, instituting shorter turnaround times for homework assignments, providing students with Chromebooks, and offering onsite IT support for families with connectivity issues, he said.

Superintendent Ben Villarruel said the district met with Green Bay architectural firm Berners Schober to discuss classroom configuration and seating arrangements to accommodate social distancing.

The district is asking the firm to determine whether it’s set up to allow the maximum number of students in the building within the guidelines of social distancing.

That includes looking at whether more desks might be put in each classroom if positioning was reworked, while maintaining proper social distancing.

A side effect of social distancing requirements is that fewer students can be in the same classroom at the same time.
With a hybrid model, students are in school in shifts, making a reduced number possible.

If everyone returns to school at the same time, keeping those reduced classroom numbers goes out the window.

The board noted some districts with students back to school full time have instituted fewer periods, so there’s less movement throughout the day.

Others move desks 6 feet apart, reducing the number of desks in a room and rotating students to other parts of the building where they remotely interact with the class.

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