School Board Approves Virtual Return to School, Modified SRO Agreement

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By: 
Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton-Cross Plains School District Board of Education unanimously adopted a plan to begin the year with a strictly virtual instructional model and pivot to full-time in-person instruction or a hybrid model later in the year based on local health data.

Superintendent Dana Monogue acknowledged the plan will please some families and disappoint others, but said the health and safety of students and staff is the district’s highest priority. 

“Schools have been placed in the middle of an impossible decisions, one where we must weigh the health and safety of our students and staff against concerns regarding the academic, social and emotional well-being of our students,” Monogue said.  

Monogue said under the current rate of COVID-19 infections locally staff or students would inevitably contract the virus. 

“We are having this conversation at a time when we are not able to meet in person because of health reasons, when our county has tightened restrictions on businesses and put forth mandates for masks, when colleges and universities are opting for online classes and cancelling or postponing sports seasons and the when the health data in Dane County is going in the wrong direction,” Monogue said. 

Monogue said the attention and resources needed to track and mitigate the spread of the virus would not be conducive for a learning environment. 

“The ramifications of quarantining, testing and moving to a virtual learning environment would be highly disruptive for those involved,” Monoue said. 

School board president Annette Ashley noted at the beginning of the meeting that the board received communications from families regarding the fall instruction plan of which 65 encourage returning to face-to-face instruction, 85 call for virtual only, 32 calling for a hybrid model, and 43 emails commenting on the plan but not calling for a specific model.

The district plans to evaluate virtual learning, review current data and consult with local health experts over the first month of instruction. Decisions regarding the instruction model will be made on a quarterly basis. If the Forward Dane Plan moves to Phase 3 at any point in the school year, the district would work to move to a hybrid or in-person model.

The district plans to offer four days of instruction each week and reserve one day, Wednesday, for staff planning.

Students will begin instruction on Sept. 8. Sept. 1-4 is set for teacher planning and preparation. During this time staff will provide students with instructions and training for the learning platforms being used and make sure all students have access to devices and Internet.

District administration staff say they are still developing the protocols for building sanitization for the pivot to in-person or hybrid instruction. Changes will also include limiting guests and volunteers, limiting student interactions, stockpiling PPE and teaching students how to monitor their health and personal hygiene best practices.

Board member Katy Morgan asked what the plan is for support staff like paraeducators, lunch-room staff and bus drivers. 

Business Services Director Lori Ames said the district is not be able to support all support staff during virtual learning but wants to ensure they are there when the district is ready to pivot from virtual learning.

Morgan said she is also worried about what virtual learning looks like for students with individualized education plans (IEPs).

The school board approved a modified agreement with the City of Middleton to provide school resource officers (SRO) through the 2020-21 school year. The modified agreement comes after the original agreement was rejected the City of Middleton Common Council. 

The modification comes in the form of an amendment stating: “The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and the City of Middleton Police Department agree to an annual evaluation of the program model to be developed with the involvement of both parties.”

Monogue noted the program has never been evaluated in its nearly 30 year life. 

The common council rejected the agreement after a dozen community members and MCPASD alumni testified in opposition pointing to the adverse impact the officers’ presence can have on students who’ve had negative experiences with police.

School board president Annette Ashley noted the board received emails regarding the SRO agreement from 17 people opposed and 10 in favor of continuing the program. 

The board also received four emails opposing the SRO program at its July 13 meeting which Ashely said they would be read aloud at the July 20 meeting. However, Ashley announced that in the interest of time none of the emails would be read aloud. 

Ashley noted the district had a representative visit areas with vulnerable communities to seek input on the SRO program. 

“We did try as best we could in these COVID conditions to reach to our vulnerable communities as well,” Ashley said. 

Director of equity and student achievement for the district, Percy Brown, spoke briefly saying the individual officers have been great members for the school community but said making a decision on the program that night would be premature.

The district did however arrange time for five speakers from the police department including police chief Troy Hellenbrand, former police chief Chuck Foulke, former SRO Tyler Loether and current SROs Kenneth Chung and Julie Carbon.

The officers shared positive aspects of the program and personal connections they have made with students.

Board member Sean Hyland said he sympathized with the criticism that having personnel in the building with a gun seems intimidating. He said he understands how that can be particularly intimidating for minority students.

Hellenbrand responded saying he was open to changing that after the evaluation so that officers would not be armed or in uniform. 

Board member Paul Kinne said  he felt it was a better option for the board to postpone any changes to the program while it is evaluated. 

Board member Katy Morgan said she worries about school shootings and wants to hear more from students and staff, especially those who are people of color on that topic. 

Board member Bob Hesselbein said if there are students who have a fear of police, removing them from school would seem to reinforce that. 

The modified SRO agreement moves to Middleton City Council for reconsideration July 21.

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