Green Bay schools to return to onsite learning March 1
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school board voted to move up a return date for onsite instruction by nearly a month at its meeting Monday, Feb. 8.
Trustees voted 4-2 to start bringing students back March 1 for onsite instruction, forgoing the previous plan to wait until vaccines were available to school staff, which would have delayed a return to March 29 at the earliest.
“When I voted to go with vaccinations, at the time there were much more optimistic predictions as to when teachers would be on the list,” said Brenda Warren, board vice president. “When the immunization date was made a tentative March 1, I was incredibly disappointed and felt like waiting until March 29 was too much to ask for so many of our students. Every decision we’ve made is the least-worst decision. I make these decisions on what we know today, and I just feel like we’ve reached a tipping point with the education of our students.”
Trustees Laura McCoy and trustee Dawn Smith voted against the measure.
“I can’t get past basically breaking a promise,” McCoy said. “I just can’t support this. We made a promise to our teachers. We gave up a reasonable gating criteria in order to do that. I am not willing to sit here and pretend this pandemic is winding down. This has never been a black and white issue. It has always, always been complicated. But this is what we are doing now. We are sending our teachers back, our staff back, when a whole bunch of them are not yet vaccinated. We told them we were waiting on that and now we are reneging on that.”
Warren said the decision was a difficult one, but she feels it’s the right one.
“This whole pandemic decision-making process has been filled with constant changes,” she said. “As I’ve made these decisions, I have tried to balance where the biggest stress in our district is as we move forward. I know that opening schools, it’s not going to magically improve the mental health of all of our students. I also know that it is going to increase the stress of our teachers as we ask them to make yet another transition. But, based on what I am hearing, I feel like this will help a lot of our kids that are feeling absolutely helpless about their education.”
The new plan has elementary students, and sixth and ninth graders returning onsite March 1. Students in seventh and eighth grade and 10th-12th will return onsite March 8.
The return models remain the same – elementary students will follow a blended model, which is in-person four days a week, with Wednesdays remaining virtual.
Secondary students will follow an A/B cohort model with two days a week of onsite instruction.
March 22-28, the week after the district’s scheduled spring break, is designated as an all virtual learning week.
All grades will return to their learning models March 29.
“I can honestly say every decision I have made since last summer has been agonizing,” Warren said. “I agonize over the decision before I make it, and I agonize over the decision afterward. Because as soon as we make a decision, and we maybe solve one problem, a whole new list of challenges arises.”
If positive COVID-19 cases in Brown County reach 600 per 100,000 people over a two-week period, an emergency board meeting will be called to discuss next steps.
In-person/virtual model crossover
Administration is developing a plan to allow students to remain with their current teacher(s), regardless of virtual or in-person instruction, a change from previous plans.
Virtual students will receive instruction synchronously and/or asynchronously.
Deputy Superintendent Vicki Bayer said details are still being ironed out, but partial information was unintentionally released to teachers last week, which raised concern.
“It’s not good practice, it’s not respectful to put out a plan that’s half baked,” Bayer said. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened last week. And for an already stressful situation for our educators, to receive only minimum information increases anxiety immensely. That wasn’t our intent. I regret that word got out that this is the direction we were moving in.”
Bayer said principals are working with teachers to create a plan where all students can succeed.
“I am not going to lie, it is going to be very difficult for teachers to both meet the needs of students onsite and virtually,” Bayer said.
The district has purchased technology to help teachers teach simultaneously.
“We have already purchased webcams with microphones for every one of our classrooms,” said Josh Patchak, executive director of Technology and Information. “So in every classroom, there will be an opportunity for students at home to be able to view what’s going on in the classroom. There is a lot of flexibility of which way (the webcam) is pointing and the microphones are omnidirectional, so that should allow students at home the opportunity to participate better with their peers in the classroom.”
Independent hearing officer
The school board unanimously approved the hiring of an independent hearing officer (IHO) to preside over expulsion hearings for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
The main drivers behind the hiring include scheduling conflicts with trustees and Title IX requirements in regards to expulsion hearings, which involve sexual assault or harassment allegations.
If expulsion is recommended, the school board is required to review it within 30 days.
The board has the authority to approve, reverse or modify the IHO’s order.
“I am reluctantly willing to agree to this for the remainder of this academic year only because we have been put in a ridiculous situation by a previous (federal) administration’s decision – let’s face it – to downgrade the seriousness with which sexual assault is treated,” said Trustee Andrew Becker. “And to create training requirements that maybe would make it impossible for school districts to do what they need to do. If I am still around, I look forward to a more robust discussion of this next year when hopefully there has been some more clarification about what the current (federal) administration will do.”
This decision affects the rest of this school year only.
If the board chooses to continue using an IHO, another vote would need to be taken for the 2021-22 school year.