By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Ashwaubenon students in grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to attend school virtually in 2021-22, but the district will limit that number to a maximum of 40 students.
The Ashwaubenon school board approved a recommendation June 16 for a one-year partnership with the Kiel School District’s virtual charter school program to allow no more than 20 Ashwaubenon students in middle school and 20 students in high school the option of virtual learning next school year.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said he believes students learn best in person with instructors.
However, Weyers said virtual learning will be a limited option next school year.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction granted another waiver for school districts to offer virtual learning for 2021-22 due to COVID-19.
“This is one year only,” Weyers said. “If we have families who really think that their children are going to be successful virtually, long-term, then they should sign up for Wisconsin Virtual Academy or some of these other programs.”
As the district dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020-21, he said 17% of the approximately 3,200 students initially chose the virtual option.
Jill Kieslich, curriculum and instruction director, said the district’s partnership with Kiel, which has offered a virtual charter school for more than a decade, provided Ashwaubenon a good opportunity to continue to offer virtual learning.
“They have two virtual programs in the school,” she said. “They have what’s called Between the Lakes, and that is actually a K-8 program, and they also offer the Kiel eSchool, which is for grades 9-12.”
Kieslich said Kiel utilizes the Florida Virtual School to provide the curriculum.
“Kiel will also provide teachers to connect with students in the program to monitor progress and provide learning support,” she said.
Kieslich said field trips will be offered in coordination with families.
When asked about not offering virtual instruction in 2021-22 for Ashwaubenon’s K-5 students, she said they need to be in class for math and English language arts.
“It’s best for the students to be here,” Kieslich said. “We as (district) directors went back and forth a number of times, because will kids be offered the (COVID-19) vaccination, will they not? We want to offer a safe environment for our students, but learning’s the priority.”
Still district students
Though no Ashwaubenon teachers will be involved in the virtual instruction, Business Director Keith Lucius said the students will still be considered as attending the district.
“We count them the same way we’d count them if they were in face-to-face instruction,” he said. “We pay this ($4,700) fee to the Kiel School District for that instructional side.”
Lucius said Ashwaubenon’s counselors and district liaison will provide support for the partnership with Kiel.
“We want to be clear with parents – it’s not our teachers,” he said. “People love our teachers. We all love our teachers. We think that’s what we do best is work with kids. This is going to be different.”
Financially, Lucius said the district will receive the same amount of revenue it would get with in-person instruction for students learning virtually, whether they are open-enrollment or resident students, which will more than cover the district’s costs of the virtual program.
He said the district receives around $8,200 per school year on a full-time, open-enrollment student, while the revenue limit on a full-time resident student averages slightly more than $10,000 a year, of which about 33-40% is in aid.
“Revenue limit room will more than cover this, and cover all those other things where our district is supporting as well,” Lucius said.
However, he said the district wouldn’t make money on having students select the virtual option, because Ashwaubenon’s classrooms are being staffed for 2021-22 based on all the students attending in-person.
Weyers said the district prefers having all of Ashwaubenon’s students attend classes in-person, but would allow a virtual option in 2021-22.
“We think it’s best for them to be here in person,” he said. “We also understand that there are families that have medical needs, or might have a (medically) fragile person in their family that they’re still feeling uncomfortable, because their child has not been vaccinated or whatever the case may be. We understand that, so that’s why we’re offering that (virtual learning option).”
Weyers said the district would be “ecstatic” if no one at Ashwaubenon chose the virtual option next school year.
He said the Pulaski and West De Pere school districts will also be partnering with Kiel for virtual learning in 2021-22.
“They’re all limiting the same way we are,” Weyers said. “They all feel strongly in Brown County that our kids should be in person.”
In the event a student would struggle with virtual learning, he said the district might tell him or her to return to the classroom for in-person instruction.
Lucius said the application process to determine which students may enroll in the virtual learning program will take into consideration whether a student struggled with remote instruction this past school year.
“Just because a parent applies (doesn’t mean) that kid’s in automatically,” he said.
Weyers said the district could deny all applications if it determined they were not the right fit for virtual learning.
Kieslich said parents/guardians have until July 1 to complete the applications, which will be screened July 2-9 with applicants notified of their status by July 11.
In the event the district receives more qualified applications than available spaces, she said a lottery system will be used to determine enrollment.
Once accepted, Kieslich said the Kiel school district will communicate with families for orientation and course selection.