Students will return to classrooms part time

Split PW-S board OKs four-day week for elementary schools, middle and high schools will have two-day schedule
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington-Saukville district schools will open schools during the pandemic but not full time. Beginning Sept. 1, elementary school students will attend classes four days a week and middle and high-schoolers will be in school two days a week, according to a highly anticipated plan approved by the School Board Monday.

On days the students aren’t in the school buildings, they will be taught online, the board agreed.

Every Wednesday, all district schools will be closed for deep cleaning and students will be given in-depth studies, such as research and reading projects. Teachers may also use the day to help struggling students.

The so-called framework for reopening was approved by the School Board on a 5-4 vote, with members Aaron Paulin, Doug Mueller, Brian Stevens and Yvonne Klotz voting against the proposal.

Voting for the plan were Board President Brenda Fritsch, Matthew Uselding, Sara McCutcheon, Brian McCutcheon and Kelly O’Connell-Perket.

Stevens and Mueller said they wanted to hold off on making a decision for a week so they could get feedback from their constituents.

“This may very well be the best plan,” Stevens said. “But this is the first time we’ve seen it.”

But Uselding said he was comfortable with the plan.

“I think we should give teachers the go-ahead to start planning for fall,” he said.

Sara McCutcheon concurred, saying, “What we’ve heard from the community is they want to know what’s going on with their kids.

“This school year is going to be on us quickly. We need to get started, and we need to start somewhere. Our specific questions won’t be answered until we have a framework.”

Fritsch noted, “The elementary schools seem to be close to normal. The middle school and high school are going to look quite different. I see this as a flexible plan” that can be adapted as Covid-19 numbers change.

Not every question people have about the opening of school can be answered now, Fritsch said.

“There’s a lot of detail that needs to be worked out,” she said, and by approving the framework the board allows district staff members to do that work.

Supt. Mike Weber said that the framework for reopening recognizes that at the elementary schools, which have a population of between 250 and 300 students per building, class sizes are small enough and there is enough room for effective social distancing.

The high school and middle school each have about 800 students, which makes social distancing more challenging, so splitting the student body in two makes it easier to do this.

Administrators and board members stressed that the plan is flexible and will be modified depending on what happens with the coronavirus. 

For example, the elementary school plan notes that if the number of Covid-19 cases increases, the school population will be divided with half the students attending class in the building on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays.

And if the virus were to continue to increase significantly, the schools could be closed.

At the middle and high schools, a surge in the virus could force schools to be closed and students to be taught online.

But if the coronavirus loosens its grip on the community, additional in-school classes could be scheduled.

Parents will have the option of full-time online classes as well, — an option that about 100 parents, or 5% of those who responded to a survey, said they would likely take advantage of, administrators said.

The district may purchase an online curriculum that aligns with its own to help provide meaningful online classes, Weber said.

Weber said the district administrators will be checking with the health department at least weekly to determine if the situation has changed enough to modify the plan.

“Monitoring the spread of this virus is going to be critical,” he said. “Things may change as the pandemic does or doesn’t continue to spread.”

The reopening plan recognizes the need to not only ensure academic progress but also to allow students to interact with one another and teachers — something administrators said is critical for students, particularly elementary students — while maintaining the health and safety of pupils and staff members.

Weber said the plan was created in consultation with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department and other agencies, input from teachers and staff members and a parent survey.

“A lot of what we heard (from parents) was ‘Please make the decision soon so we can start making the decisions we need to,’ Weber said. 

The survey, which 2,100 parents in a district of 2,600 students responded to, revealed that most parents want their children in school with social distancing and masks, Director of Curriculum Chris Surfus said.

The district has not decided whether to require masks, Weber said. In a survey of teachers, 80% said they and their students should wear masks, and the 65 teachers who helped create the framework for reopening concurred, he said.

“We’re really seriously considering masks for everyone,” he said. “That seems to be the most effective way to slow or stop the virus.”

There will be times and places where students don’t wear masks, officials said.

“A young child can’t wear a mask eight hours a day,” Lincoln Elementary School Principal Jane Gennerman said.

The district is working on protocols to be followed if a teacher or student tests positive for Covid-19, Weber said.

In considering a combination of online and in-person classes, the clear preference of parents was to have students in school for at least two consecutive days to build continuity and enhance structure, Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.

Deep cleaning classrooms on weekends and Wednesdays will help minimize risks to students and staff members, administrators said.

Recognizing how difficult a split schedule can be for families, officials said they will make every effort to ensure students from the same family attend school on the same days, officials said.

Weber said staff members have learned from their online teaching experiences this spring and will be working to make the experiences more rigorous and beneficial.

Teachers are ready to begin work on their online lessons, Surfus said. Professional development days and a portion of each Wednesday will be used to create these lessons. Teams of teachers across the district will work on the lessons to minimize the workload.

To help with the online class development, the School Board on Monday agreed to spend $232,000 to buy 225 laptop computers for staff members.

“One of the things we found out is Chromebooks for teachers are useful but not the most effective,” Froemming said.

In schools, steps will be taken to minimize any risks to students, their families and staff members. Classrooms will have wipes and be equipped with sanitizing stations.

Middle School Principal Steve Sukawaty said at least some classes at the school may be held outdoors at the beginning of the school year, and students won’t be using their lockers, instead carrying materials in their backpacks.

At the elementary school, a limited number of students will be allowed outside at a time for recesses, Gennerman said. 

A block schedule at the middle and high schools will keep students in classrooms longer and minimize the number of times students pass one another in hallways, High School Principal Thad Gabrielse said, noting that at the high school there will be four two-hour classes a day instead of the traditional eight periods.

Students will not be allowed to leave school for lunch, he noted, and lunch times will be split to minimize the number of students eating at one time.

Only about one-third of parents said they will need transportation services, Froemming said, which will make social distancing on buses easier.


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