Ashwaubenon returning to in-person instruction Jan. 25
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – After months of partial or total remote instruction because of COVID-19, the school district plans to start the second semester Monday, Jan. 25, with all students who opted for in-person instruction back in school five days a week.
The plan for returning students was discussed Wednesday, Jan. 13, by the Ashwaubenon school board, which agreed to have Superintendent Kurt Weyers look at the district’s criteria prior to making an official announcement this week about returning 6-12 students full-time the final week in January.
Earlier this month, students in grades 6-12 were split into two groups, alternating between in-person and remote instruction, while 4K-5 students returned full-time to in-person instruction Jan. 13.
The board last month unanimously approved three criteria – community spread of COVID-19, staff absences and student attendance rate – to guide the district in making decisions to move from one instructional model to another.
Weyers said the criteria are being used as a “check engine light” to alert district staff 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 district’s students attend Ashwaubenon under open enrollment, the board agreed to use a countywide statistic for COVID-19 spread.
Staff absences 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.
Weyers said Tuesday, Jan. 19, the three criteria were below the levels set by the board, thereby making it possible to have in-person instruction full-time in grades 4K-12 when the second semester begins.
In an email with a video sent Monday, Jan. 18, to district staff, students and families, Weyers said he is thrilled to have students back in the classrooms and urged everyone to follow procedures and guidelines to keep safe in Ashwaubenon’s schools.
Weyers said face coverings must be worn by all students, staff and visitors who enter district buildings.
“If you are picking up your child for an appointment, or before or after school, and leave your vehicle, we are asking that you wear a mask as well,” he said.
The district has granted exceptions to requiring face coverings, such as for individuals with medical conditions.
Information it is using from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services states it isn’t the job of students to enforce wearing or not wearing face coverings.
Weyers also called for daily health checks to be performed and those who are sick to stay home.
Based on conversations he had with other school districts returning to in-person instruction full-time, Weyers said he is preparing for an increase in the number of individuals needing to be quarantined.
“Our first week back (to in-person instruction) saw some great things happening – wonderful learning, wonderful to have the kids back – but we also had to adapt to a couple of setbacks,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to quarantine five elementary classrooms as a result of positive COVID tests.”
Weyers said everyone needs to work together to minimize the amount of quarantines necessary.
He said students who are close contacts with others testing positive for COVID-19 will need to be quarantined for 14 days to prevent the virus from spreading.
For example, Weyers said elementary students who are in the same classroom throughout the school day and not able to have social distance from someone testing positive for COVID-19 would have to be quarantined.
In-person vs. virtual
Instructional Technology Coordinator Jamie Averbeck informed the board last week 2,662 students districtwide (83 percent) selected in-person instruction with the remaining 17 percent choosing to learn virtually for the remainder of the school year.
In-person vs. virtual learning has been an emotional, divisive topic in Ashwaubenon with board members receiving comments about problems with learning remotely and concerns about safety related to the returning to the classroom with the virus spreading in the community.
After beginning the school year in-person Sept. 1, when measures were in place to prevent the virus from spreading and students uncomfortable about returning to the classroom were allowed to learn virtually, the district switched 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.
To get substitute teachers to commit exclusively to Ashwaubenon and agree not to substitute in neighboring districts, Weyers said the district offered daily substitutes the long-term substitute rate, increasing their daily pay from $152 to $222.
The school buildings weren’t totally off-limits to students while remote learning took place.
The district allowed small groups of students in the schools for short durations, such as on Wednesdays at the high school for shop projects and labs.
The district also worked in-person with students who have special needs.