School Board Reviews Reopening Plan

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Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton Cross Plains Area School District Board of Education reviewed the latest developments implementing a blended in-person/virtual instruction model for students in grades PK-4 beginning Feb. 1, grades 5-8 beginning Feb. 22 and 9-12 beginning Mar. 11.

Superintendent Dana Monogue said despite passionate and divergent opinions about how and when to reopen schools she is confident the model the district is developing will benefit most students and their families.

“We are pleased with the plan we have in place going forward,” Monogue said. “By maintaining a fully virtual option we have created an avenue for families who do not wish to send their children back into our schools. We are also confident in the virus mitigation protocols we will have in place in all of our buildings when students and staff return. Vaccines are starting to be given to our staff which is wonderful news. research continues to show that students who contract the virus do so in the community and not while at school and we know that virus mitigation efforts work to stop the spread.”

Dr. Ellen Wald, Chair of Department of Pediatrics at UW Hospital and Dr. Sabrina Butteris, pediatric specialist with UW Health and the American Family Children's Hospital attended the board meeting to present the latest health data related to COVID-19 and answer questions from board members.

Wald said that while cases in the US continue to grow, breaking a record over the weekend with more than 300,000 cases in one day, the number of cases in the state has been dropping since mid-November and appears to be plateauing.

“Compared to the United States at the moment Wisconsin is doing very much better,” Wald said.

Dane County tracks similar to the state though there was a spike over the last week. Wald said that is concerning but she believes the number of cases will continue to decline.

The number of hospitalized patients also peaked in November. The numbers are declining but still not as low as September. The number of patients in the ICU have seen a similar trend. 

Wald said regarding the UK variant of the novel coronavirus that mutations are very common in RNA viruses and to be expected with the amount of people that have been infected. She noted most mutations are insignificant but there is evidence that the new variant is more contagious. Wald said there is so far no evidence that variant causes more severe illness or is resistant to the vaccines.

Wald referenced three studies that suggest schools are low risk of COVID-19 transmission. Another study she pointed to suggests that most children who contract COVID-19 do so in a community setting rather than in school. 

Board member Paul Kinne asked about the potential impact from UW students returning in January. Wald said the university is taking a more aggressive strategy now requiring testing and behavior policing.

Board member Katy Morgan asked about the effectiveness of staggering starting dates for different grade levels. Wald said that it makes sense since it is a major undertaking, and the district can learn as it goes. 

Morgan asked if vaccines should be widely available before returning to in-person instruction. Wald said teachers will likely have vaccines available soon so there should be no reason to wait. 

Morgan asked how to deal with mental health. Wald said it is a difficult time but the best thing to do is talk. 

Butteris said the district could begin identifying students more at risk for mental health issues and also ask what can be done to help parents who are struggling with anxiety. 

Board member Anne Bauer asked about student athletes competing outside of Dane County. Wald said there is more risk and recommended limiting competition within teams.

Butteris added that different sports have been specified as lower or higher risk and the district should consider allowing more flexibility for lower risk.

Director of Business Services Lori Ames said all buildings have plans and protocols in place. That includes isolation rooms, contact tracing and ventilation plans. Ames added schedules and foot traffic patterns are currently being developed.

Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra said the results of the latest model enrollment requests nearly doubled enrollment in the fully virtual model. There was an increase of 707 students in the fully virtual model, about 19 percent of all students. 

Cyra explained the 2-1-2 model will give students two full days of synchronous instruction and three days of asynchronous instruction for the first few weeks. The district plans to begin offering students the option to join their class remotely beginning the third week.

She said the IT staff have begun outfitting classrooms with wireless microphones and HD webcams with tripods and training teachers to use the equipment.

Director of Elementary Education Rainey Briggs said the first three weeks will be focused on setting expectations and building relationships with students, beyond that more synchronous learning is a high priority.

Monogue said athletic competitions for high or medium risk sports are not permitted in the county, though low risk sports are allowed with safety protocols in place. All districts in the county are currently allowing out of county competitions except Madison. 

She said the board delegated the decision to administration which is currently reviewing winter sports and their risk classifications. Music and theater staff are meeting next week to review options for in-person clubs and activities.

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