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Learning transition for secondary students approved in Green Bay

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Another transition is coming for Green Bay secondary students.

The school board approved a plan at a special board meeting Monday, March 22 that transitions students in grades six through 12 from the current cohort model – where students attend in-person instruction twice a week in two cohorts – to a four-day-a-week hybrid model beginning April 12.

Wednesdays remain a virtual learning day for all students district-wide.

Families will have the option to transition students back to fully virtual if they prefer.

“A few months ago the CDC came out and said that the best place for students was in the classroom, and a lot of people hit us up with that quote,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, board president. “Oftentimes, however, they would leave out the second part of ‘when community spread was under control.’ And so to me, when I look at the data in front of us, I would categorize this as community spread being under control, which is why I have supported bringing students back to the classroom.”

The motion passed 5-2 with Trustees Laura McCoy and Laura Laitinen-Warren opposed.

Laitinen-Warren said the quick transition seems a little unfair.

“(Board member) Rhonda (Sitnikau) had mentioned earlier that it is good that we are getting back to the right thing for the students in the district,” she said. “The challenge with that is I think what the right thing to do is going to be different for every individual family, which is why therein is a problem. I think that is part of the challenge, the compelling reasons on both sides.”

Laitinen-Warren characterized the cohort model as a “middle of the road” option.

“We are hearing a lot from parents that want four or five days a week, but there are also parents we are hearing from that are happy with how the cohort model was (going),” she said. “It seems a little unfair to those parents.”

Some community members voiced frustration following the decision.

“Because of your decision tonight, I will be pulling my middle schooler back to virtual learning, feel free to send her an email with your apologies,” said parent Bethe Lane. “I really feel that the staff and students in this district have been treading water for months now. Your decision is basically just going to drown them now. Cohorts were the middle ground. That was the compromise that made everyone feel like they got a little bit of something to get them through the rest of the year.”

Superintendent Steve Murley said a transition is doable, but comes with challenges including social distancing concerns.

Murley said many buildings will not be able to meet even the new CDC recommendation of 3 feet social distancing.

“I was very clear, and people heard that about physical distancing issues in common areas, what I don’t want people to lose track of is that physical distancing will be just as pronounced in the classroom,” Murley said. “If you return to onsite sections, 25, 26 kids in them, you have all been in a classroom, you know what they look like when it has that many children in it at the middle and high school level. I just want to make sure that you also understand that it is not just the common areas, but that we will also not be able to meet those physical distance requirements in many of our classrooms.”

Other challenges include contact tracing, added stress on teachers and staff and overall staffing concerns, especially with science and tech ed classes.

Murley said Edison Middle School, East High School and Preble High School are currently struggling the most with staffing storages.

If positive COVID-19 cases in Brown County reach 400 per 100,000 population over a two-week period, an emergency board meeting will be called to discuss next steps.

“Our numbers are low right now and if our community is seeing that kind of rise in the numbers it probably means our community is in the middle of some kind of spike, another wave, and I’d rather get in and take action at the front end of that then to wait until that number is higher,” McCoy said.

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