School Board Reviews Fall Instruction Options

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By: 
Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton Cross Plains School District (MCPASD) Board of Education reviewed and discussed the options district administration is considering for instruction in the fall. The options include a full return to in-person instruction, fully virtual and various hybrid models. The board meets on July 20 for a decision. Any plan approved by the board will need to meet the requirements and guidelines established by Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) which have been delayed in light of emerging data on COVID-19 infection rates locally.

Superintendent Dana Monogue said the administration will have a final recommendation for the board and expect a vote at the July 20 meeting to give district staff as much time as possible to plan for fall.

“This information will be critical in any final recommendations we bring to our board and if we do not have this guidance in time for the July 20 meeting we’re going to have to make our best recommendations based on all the information we have from different sources,” Monogue said.

School board president Annette Ashley said the district received 113 emails regarding fall scenario planning. Another 20-30 emails were sent to individual board members. Of those Ashley said 28 are support of full-time in-person, 58 support completely virtual and 12 support one of the various hybrid models. Another 15 emails comment on the planning process and one email encourages the district to consider family continuity.

Director of Communications Perry Hibner reviewed survey data from families. About 2,800 families responded to the survey and about 2,900 participated in an earlier survey regarding their experience with virtual learning. Hibner noted since the survey closed numerous people have reached out to him saying they would change their responses based on new information. 

The survey’s results indicate 70 percent of families are concerned their child will contract Covid-19; 54 percent are concerned about maintaining social distancing; 68 percent would want to be contacted if a student or staff in their child’s school tests positive for Covid-19; 66 percent are concerned about sanitizing procedures; 76 percent say they would like more one-on-one time with staff if virtual learning continues; 71 percent want more instruction and new content with virtual learning. 

Hibner said he interviewed people at food drop-off sites, noting a lack of Internet access has been a recurring complaint. He said people would like more hands-on content. Concerns about riding busses were also raised. 

He said district staff will be surveyed over the next week and the results would be presented at the July 20 meeting.

Deputy superintendent Sherri Cyra said the county plan has been delayed because of the rapid increase in cases locally and there is no guarantee on that timeline. 

“The process has been very challenging because it is ever-evolving, the guidance has been delayed repeatedly and there are many opinions on every aspect of the planning process, and often a wide-range of opinions without consensus on those opinions,” Cyra said.

Cyra reviewed the options the district is considering, noting all options reserve one day a week for planning, which will either be Wednesday or Friday. Wednesday may be harder for families but would allow for a day of sanitizing mid-week. 

Option A is completely virtual at all grade levels. Cyra said she was confident that the district would improve the virtual learning experience for students in the fall with what staff has learned  so far and with more planning. 

Option B1 is a cohort model which would split all classes into two groups, families would be in the same cohorts. The cohorts switch off attending in-person classes two days and virtual learning two days a week.

Option B2 is the same but elementary students would fully return to in-person learning. Students would be reassigned to other buildings and staff for smaller classes. Cyra said this scenario is most unlikely because of capacity and staffing challenges. 

Option B2a elementary students return full-time while middle and high school students go completely virtual. This plan would also redistribute students among buildings and staff, which causes the same issues as B2.

Option C is full-time in-person.

Cyra said administrative staff will use an evaluation matrix to rate the options. 

Board members shared comments and questions they would like addressed and answered for the next meeting. 

Board member Bob Green asked what the district will do for staff that need to be quarantined or receive medical treatment for COVID-19. He asked if there has been guidance from DPI on how the district will do enrollment counts. He would also like to know more how social distancing will be implemented in elementary schools.

Board member Bob Hesselbein said he wants an epidemiologist to review any plan the district adopts. He said he would also like the bus transit system reviewed and wants a plan in place in the case infection does start spreading in schools.

Board member Minza Karim asked if the administration has considered having in-person through November and then pivoting to virtual. She also asked if parents that opt for in-person or virtual at the start of the year will be allowed to change their decision later. 

Board member Anne Bauer said there is likely going to be scheduling issues in the hybrid models. She said transportation will be challenging since many families would like to avoid students riding the bus to school. Bauer said she is most troubled by the idea of creating a plan that allowed for any acceptable level of staff or student illness.

Board member Todd Smith asked about moving to live streaming online instruction to provide more continuity. 

Director of Secondary Education Laura Love responded that live is best for one-on-one or peer-to-peer learning. Director of Elementary Education Rainey Briggs said live streaming at the elementary level would be a potential disaster. 

Smith said he would like more discussion and consideration on virtual learning. He said the board should also consider which models would be easiest from which to pivot.

Board member Katy Morgan said she realizes there is no way the options being considered will work for all parents but the district must prioritize the safety of students and staff.

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