Brian Roebke photo
Superintendent Carla Buboltz presented the Wrightstown Community School District’s reopening plan at last week’s board of education meeting.
By Brian Roebke
Students in grades K-8 will attend school five days a week and students in grades 9-12 will be in school two days a week under the school reopening plan presented last week by Superintendent Carla Buboltz at the Wrightstown Community School District’s July board of education meeting.
“Our mission and vision about an excellent student achievement and education for all has not changed,” Buboltz told the school board.
How they were able to do that changed in March when Gov. Tony Evers ordered all schools closed, but now it’s up to the schools to decide on a plan to reopen in fall.
“We know the virus is contagious, we know it’s spread from person to person, we know that any face to face gatherings potentially allow for the spread of that virus, but we still keep going back to the fact that schools are critical for child and adolescent development,” Buboltz said.
Many experts on adolescents believe that while keeping safe is important, they are worried about children missing out on so much social interaction with each other and hope that does not hinder their development.
“Schools provide so much more than just reading, writing and arithmetic,” Buboltz said.
She also reeled off a list of benefits that schools provide: social and emotional support, safety, nutrition — the district served more than 50,000 meals while students were out of school, intervention for students with differing learning abilities, mental health care, technology, physical activity, art and music.
“They can get that online but we also know that research shows that they do happen more efficiently and more effectively person-to-person,” Buboltz said.
The key to the plan at the elementary and middle school are creating “cohort groups” beginning on Sept. 1 that will be together in their room as a group for the entire day.
“Teachers will come to them for art, music, and phy ed, lunch will come to them, and if we have a student or staff member who becomes sick and we have to do some contact tracing, we know we have a small pod of kids that we’re working with,” Buboltz said.
The elementary school will have 500 students in it, so keeping people in classroom groups of approximately 22 students makes that more manageable.
The middle school is creating cohort groups as well, with the key being that content teachers will move into regular classrooms.
At the high school, students will attend either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. Creating cohort groups is impossible at this level, but this plan limits the building to 50 percent capacity.
“We still have a core foundational belief in in-person instruction,” Buboltz said.
The students will use a virtual platform three days a week, and what that looks like is still being worked out but Buboltz said it will look different than the distance learning that happened in March, April and May.
It’s most likely to be real time, with students dialing into their specific classes at the same time every day from home.
Wednesdays are virtual for everyone, but set aside for lab work.
Students whose teachers deem in need of more face-to-face learning may be brought into school more than two days a week.
Of note is that if the district, county or state approves a mask requirement, all high school students can come into school every day.
K4 students will continue to attend school two days a week like they have in the past.
When school opens the initial goal is to deal with the social/emotional health of the students and staff. “We’re not jumping in academics the first day we’re here,” Buboltz said. “We’re going to talk about what we all collectively experienced from March 17 and through the spring and summer and then really talking about those safety protocols.”
She stressed the plan is based on information known today, “at 6:04 on Wednesday, July 15.”
Since the pandemic continues and new cases of COVID-19 are not slowing down, information can change at any time from the Center for Disease Control and Department of Health Services.
The district has discussed alternatives if there are hiccups in the plan.
Each building principal is establishing “COVID comeback teams” to determine procedures that allow everyone to follow the guidelines.
Information to parents will be available through the school’s website and Skyward for communicating with parents.
The opening plan is based on the principles of safety and health, relationships, social/emotional and mental health needs, quality education, looking at schedules and spaces, flexibility, feedback and communication.
A parent survey showed that 85 percent of respondents wanted students to have in-person learning in fall. Of those, 35 percent thought a blend of in-school and at-home learning was preferred and 16 percent wanted all virtual learning.
“Ninety-five percent said they were comfortable or somewhat comfortable sending their kids back to school in fall,” Buboltz said. “That was the driving force for us.”
While the school can take many precautions at school, bussing is a different issue. Alternative methods of bussing are not feasible, but 80 percent of respondents said they were at least somewhat comfortable with their child riding a bus to school.
Busses will be disinfected between routes, focusing on high touch areas, drivers will be masked, all busses will have hand sanitizers by the doors and students will be highly encouraged, if not required, to wear masks. Children in the same family must sit in the same seat.
The school district will send a parent registration in early August so they know what students are riding a bus, allowing the district and bus company to even out routes. In the past, some busses were full and some were half full.
They will also take a look at an initial route for rural students and that driver then going out to get students living inside the village.
She said she felt good the community trusts the school district will do everything they can to keep kids safe.
More than 80 percent of parents responded to the survey.
Buboltz shared that she’s attended task force meetings with the Department of Public Instruction along with Brown, Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago county school superintendents and health care agencies and providers. She noted Brown County schools were leaning more toward hybrid school openings and the other districts were leaning toward a more traditional look.
“This is not something we came up with on our own,” she said. “We’re looking at the collective wisdom of the people around us.
Precautions being taken are:
• Daily cleaning of classrooms (no change from the past).
• Deep cleaning that includes disinfectant that’s sprayed in a room every other day that kills germs up to 48 hours.
• Hand sanitizers in every classroom to practice “clean in and clean out.”
• Plexiglas barriers on public spaces.
• Classroom teachers remove as much furniture and equipment as possible to have everyone physically distance as much as possible.
• Have students faced forward in their own space with as much distance as possible from others.
• Remove ability for people to drink out of water fountains and replace with bottle filling only.
• Staff will do daily online COVID-19 screening.
• Self screening and reporting for students and parents including specific symptoms of students who are called in sick.
• Increasing daily cleaning and disinfecting.
• No communal classroom supplies.
• Limited use of shared spaces such as library, gymnasium, and cafeteria.
• Limit all non-essential visitors to school buildings.
• Limit field trips and large group gatherings.
• Require face coverings for all adults. Clear plastic face shields are acceptable.
• Highly recommend face coverings for all students in grades 2-12.
• Possible limits put on outside organizations using school buildings.