De Pere school board to decide Feb. 1 on student return
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Members of the De Pere school board have a lot to mull over this weekend.
The board will vote Monday, Feb. 1, on whether to return students in grades 7-12 back to school full-time, in-person five days a week.
More than 200 people attended a special meeting via Zoom Monday, Jan. 25, which was called to discuss what a possible reopening would look like.
“It’s been a long year, and I’m hoping we can finish strong,” said Board President David Youngquist. “Everyone agrees students should be back in school, and the sooner the better.”
Monday’s vote will be a “yes” or “no” to a Feb. 15 return to five-day-per-week, in-person schooling, with attempts made to keep students at a distance of 4 feet from each other.
A “yes” vote would mean the whole student body would be in the building in one shift instead of in cohorts, meaning social distancing would pose challenges.
Desks in most classrooms would be placed 4 feet apart, rather than the 6 feet advised by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, because of space constraints.
“There will be quarantining,” Youngquist said. “Quarantining is a consequence of a return to five days. There will be a lot of upset folks and pushback when that happens; I just want to get that out there.”
Fewer desks in classrooms means dozens of overflow students would have to go to other areas, such as the library or unused classrooms, to log on and participate in class virtually.
Sufficient space would need to be found for them to social distance, and they’d need to be supervised.
Overflow students would be in a rotation, so the same kids weren’t always shuffled elsewhere.
Absences and student complaints such as “I was just displaced in my last hour,” could throw a wrench into the rotation schedule.
“Having eight or 10 students per class displaced could cause sort of a logistics nightmare,” De Pere High School Principal Nick Joseph said. “As would having them in the cafeteria logging in and trying to participate in their classes along with 80 other students doing the same thing.”
If desks were to be at 6 feet, as had been an earlier consideration, the overflow number would be higher.
“But it could be argued that no one would need to be quarantined (at 6 feet),” said Superintendent Ben Villarruel.
That option was taken off the table because some teachers indicated more displaced students could make planning more complicated.
Planning, as well as getting overflow students to their alternate location and ensuring they’re logged in, could detract from education time, Villarruel said.
A “yes” vote would not mean everything’s back to normal.
The public wouldn’t be allowed into the building.
Events normally held at night or off-hours, such as theater, are not expected to resume anytime soon, although virtual co-curricular activities can continue.
“The buildings need to be empty at night, for all of the extra cleaning measures that need to be done,” Villarruel said. “Our custodial staff is already stretched thin.”