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Green Bay lowers graduation requirements

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school district is taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic and the year of virtual learning when it comes to graduation requirements, at least for the next two years.

The school board approved a recommendation by the administration at its Aug. 9 meeting to suspend board policy and decrease the requirements for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

Superintendent Steve Murley said the move is an effort to eliminate barriers possibly brought on by the pandemic.

“What we are proposing is there be a laddered return,” Murley said.

Board policy requires students to earn 22 credits to qualify for a high school diploma.

This is above the state requirement of 15.

State statute also encourages school boards to require up to an additional 8.5 credits from any combination of vocational education, foreign languages, fine arts and other courses as part of the graduation requirements.

The approved proposal decreases the requirement to 17.5 credits for 2021-22 and 20 credits in 2022-23, before returning to its 22-credit requirement for the 2023-24 school year.

Murley said the plan meets the state minimum of 15 credits, along with two elective credits and a half credit of personal financial literacy in 2021-22, and 4.5 elective credits and a half credit for personal financial literacy in 2022-23.

“Our district requirements supersede those of the state and exceed their minimum,” he said. “What this ladder does then is allows us the opportunity to recognize the challenges incoming seniors, who were juniors last year, and our incoming juniors who were sophomores last year may have had as they went through the pandemic and the challenges that we faced last year. And it gives them the opportunity to ensure they have a smooth path to graduation.”

The decreases were approved unanimously.

Additional leave for vaccinated staff

The school board approved additional leave for fully vaccinated staff in the event they have to miss days for COVID-related reasons.

“The change in front of you essentially allows us to go back and utilize a practice we used last year,” Murley said. “We recognize that many of our staff will be vaccinated. However, there is some potential that those who are vaccinated may be put in a position where they have to quarantine. As such, they have done what we’ve asked them to do, which is to ensure they are vaccinated to provide for the greatest safety for our students. If indeed, after they have done that and are required to quarantine, this would afford them the opportunity to access leave through a district bank, as opposed to using it from their personal bank. We think that is both the responsible thing to do and a good incentive to ensure our staff are working hard toward getting their vaccines.”

The additional COVID-related leave for the 2021-22 school year includes fully vaccinated employees, employees who are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for a variety of health reasons, including those under the Americans with Disabilities Act and employees who, for reasons of a religious belief, practice or observance refuse to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) doesn’t require a very formal procedure,” Legal Counsel Melissa Thiel Collar said. “An employee would submit a statement as to what is their reasonably held belief, and then the district would evaluate that. The district has the opportunity to reach out to the employee’s religious leader if there are questions. But it is a standard process, and our HR department is equipped to evaluate those requests.”

Trustee Andrew Becker made a point to clarify the district is not forcing anyone to get the vaccine.

“This is about access to extra leave,” he said. “If an employee were to just make a personal choice to not get vaccinated, no one is (being) forced to (get the vaccine). But you’d be within your regular sick leave policies if you contracted COVID, if you chose not to take the vaccine.”

Head Start addition

Trustees approved a request to use grant funds toward an addition to the Head Start Learning Center, housed in the former Jefferson Elementary School building at 1150 Bellevue St., thanks to COVID-19 relief funds.

“The Head Start exists as a separate entity governed by separate rules under the federal government, and therefore qualifies for an independent stream of funding through the CARES Act and the American Recovery Plan,” Murley said. “What this does is allows us to access those funds and to use those for the physical expansion at Head Start… We think that will provide great benefit for the students and the families here in the Greater Green Bay area.”

The 2,500-square-foot expansion, which is expected to cost approximately $725,000, will include office space for eight support staff, an area for parent meetings and trainings and additional storage.

The current office space will then be used for children’s therapy services.

“Me and Nancy (Welch) are the liaisons to Head Start,” Board Vice President Laura McCoy said. “We meet every month and have listened to (Head Start Director) Sally (Jansen) and her team tell us about their needs in this area and how excited they are that they are going to be able to expand. It will really help with social distancing and also with services for their little, tiny students.”

Resource officer body cameras

The board approved an addendum to its contract with the Green Bay Police Department in regards to body-worn cameras by school resource officers (SROs).

Thiel Collar said the addendum includes specific body camera language in respect to usage within schools, which the original contract did not include.

“When we entered into that agreement … the city did not have body-worn cameras,” she said.

Now that they do, Thiel Collar said a contract addendum is needed.

She said for the majority of their service within the school community, resource officers’ body-worn cameras will remain inactive.

Thiel Collar said the cameras will only be on and recording when officers engage in law enforcement activity.

The district funds 11 SROS, who work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at a designated school during the school year.

Each officer has an office at their school but remains a Green Bay Police Department employee, not a district employee.

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