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De Pere schools hanging onto hybrid model for older students

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – For the time being, students in grades 7-12 in the De Pere school district will continue the status quo – that is, learning part of the week from home and the other part in-person – in what’s known as a hybrid model.

On Monday, Jan. 18, the school board revisited the question of older students returning full-time, in-person.

About 60 people listened in to the virtual meeting.

“The CDC has a guideline of maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet in classrooms, and if the school district cannot achieve that in the middle school and the high school, we believe the best thing for our students and our staff is to continue in the hybrid model,” said Board President David Youngquist.

The board is continuing to review the issue and keep on top of conditions which could change.

The board has a list of 12 factors it takes into consideration when discussing whether to reopen schools.

These factors range from social distancing to staffing.

Meanwhile, an architectural firm is studying building measurements with an eye for providing information on reconfiguring space to allow for social distancing.

Its classroom utilization strategy should be completed soon, and the board will review the findings at its Feb. 1 meeting.

The board discussed other things it’s considering, including reducing the number of desks per classroom and moving a rotating group of overflow students into other spaces, such as the library, cafeteria, unused classrooms, or other community rooms, where they would participate in the class remotely.

Superintendent Ben Villarruel said it wasn’t clear whether the district would have enough space to accommodate or enough staff to supervise the overflow.

The number of students opting to return full-time would impact this capability.

Villarruel said on average, 15 to 25 percent of students in districts he’s looked at opt to continue studying virtually.

Another strategy could be to implement block scheduling, with four periods a day of 100 to 120 minutes instead of 50 minutes.

This would lessen the number of times students mix.

However, that, too, has its challenges.

“We could do it tomorrow, but it would be done poorly,” Villarruel said, adding to do it correctly would take a year of discussion and a year of planning.

Classes would have to be taught differently, and it would require staff development, he said.

Most schools that have reopened full time had some form of block scheduling in place before the pandemic.

Villarruel updated the board on a few school districts in the area that have decided to reopen full-time, some despite not being able to ensure students maintain a 6-foot distance from each other.

Pulaski, he said, is not able to maintain 6 feet and instead is shooting for at least 2 feet.

It’s also not taking the CDC’s 14-day community spread rate into consideration. The same is true for Ashwaubenon, he said.

Ashwaubenon is going back Jan. 25, to return all students all day, everyday, again knowing that social distancing would not be occurring at 6 feet, and they are reopening regardless of what the 14-day average is,” Villarruel said.

Green Bay decided to shift to a hybrid model three weeks after vaccinations become available for teachers and staff.

In Brown County, as of Tuesday, Jan. 19, the community spread rate was almost 600 positive cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in the population, according to information on the Brown County COVID-19 dashboard.

CDC guidelines state a rate of five cases or fewer per 100,000 people in a population poses the lowest risk for transmission in schools and that anything over 200 cases per 100,000 poses the highest risk of transmission in schools.

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