SHULLSBURG – Due to the intense workload of teachers in the Shullsburg School District having to teach both in-person and virtual students, while also trying to get some of the virtual students help with grades, the Shullsburg School District Board of Education approved 6-1 to have all students in the district return to in-person instruction starting April 19, leaving the virtual learning option open only to those who are in quarantine for COVID-19.
Superintendent Mark Lierman stated that teachers have been stressed trying to keep up with teaching double duty with students both in class and online. Some students who are virtual don’t always have connectivity to participate in classes, which causes stress for both student and teacher.
Lierman wanted district members to consider that 90 percent of the staff at Shullsburg have been vaccinated and hoped that would bring some level of comfort to students and families.
“I understand that that doesn’t put us entirely out of the woods,” Lierman indicated towards COVID-19. “but I agree with this item and getting everyone back in school. Teachers would love to have everyone back. Let’s finish out the last six weeks with everyone in-person.”
He added that the virtual model would not be eliminated and would still be in use for those under quarantine but that would be the only option for virtual learning.
Lierman then said that the district has some students that are virtual that should not be virtual.
Melanie Andrews immediately questioned, “By whose definition?”
Due to failing grades and attendance Lierman explained.
“Why not finish out the year with it and start in September with no virtual option? Why change it with six weeks left?” Andrews asked.
Nathan Russell replied that it was because they are a school.
“If they are telling me that kids are failing, I’m going to trust them,” Russell said.
Andrews asked what about the students that aren’t failing at being virtual because the district makes them wear a mask in the building.
“Then that is just too bad in my opinion,” Russell responded.
The idea of the Shullsburg School District is to educate students and Russell said that if they are failing students then he felt they needed to be back in the building.
“We don’t know what reasons those people are choosing to stay at home,” Andrews argued, citing it could be due to health reasons of a family member or not wanting to wear a mask in the building.
Russell reiterated what he said about the schools objective is to educate students.
“That is what we have to do. The vast majority of the public has the ability to get a vaccine that is suppose to remedy this away or drastically reduce it. That was not the case in October, November, December and on. It is only become until now that we have that. That is the change,” Russell said.
Andrews disputed that many virtual students are not failing.
Principal Dana Bendorf said that in the elementary school two students are doing virtual learning and three are doing virtual for COVID-19 related reasons. In the junior high, four students are doing virtual and one is virtual due to COVID-19. In the high school there are 14 doing virtual and only one out for COVID-19 related reasons, for a total of 25 students currently doing virtual for both reasons combined.
Russell asked if any other district has eliminated their virtual option or were proposing to do so. Lierman stated no.
“We want to get those students in and help them. We can’t help them from afar. We can’t help them when they don’t log on. We can’t help them when they don’t complete work or check in with their teacher. If they were in the building, we could help them,” Lierman said.
Lierman said that many that are currently failing would have to take summer school for credit recovery, which will be in person.
Lauren Ray asked if the school board were to approve the item, what would happen if the families do not comply. Lierman said it would lead to truancy and fines will be given out.
Russell asked Lierman’s opinion that even if the district were to have everyone come back, those students that are failing won’t have enough credits and will need to do credit recovery anyway. Lierman said only some of them.
“But at least we can get them on the right path early,” Lierman added.
Andrew argued that there are students that are in person who are failing. Lierman answered that the district gets to work them because they are in person. Bendorf stated there is a definite correlation with failing grades and virtual learning for some students.
“I’m struggling because this is about education but I also want to make sure that we are doing something that has value and especially if we are the only trend setter in the county,” Russell said.
Ray mentioned, “I struggle with requiring masks even with all these vaccine options and then saying that everyone has to come back to school because we have all these vaccine options. I don’t know how we can ignore the fact that 90 percent of our staff have the vaccine and everyone in the public can get the vaccine and the governors mandate is gone and the health department is only recommending it and we are requiring it and then turn around and say everyone has all this access to the vaccine so everyone has to come back to school. We are playing both sides of the argument.”
Russell felt the district had to find a balance between those who want to wear masks or not.
Andrews felt it would be better to make that change at the beginning of the new school year than now with only six weeks left.
Ray agreed that they should keep it status quo.
Eugene Uehling felt that it would be beneficial to have students in the school.
“I understand parents feel strongly both ways. I think kids do better in school. With summer school being in person, for someone failing, they will have to be in person for that. My opinion is we bite the bullet and tell parents and students they need to be in the building, knowing we probably won’t have 100 percent compliance with that but it is taking a stand and we are doing it for what I think is a valid point to get students grades back before the end of the school year,” Uehling said.
Chad Teasdale made the motion to offer virtual/remote instruction option only to students who are under quarantine beginning April 19. Russell seconded the motion.
It passed with Andrews against.
With the Gov. Tony Evers’s mask mandate being overturned, the discussion of making masks optional in the district building was brought up at the school board meeting. Lierman stated that the Lafayette County Health Department is still recommending that all school districts have everyone wearing masks in the building.
Jacinda Gunnell wanted to continue with that until the end of the school year.
Andrews wanted to make it optional for students to wear the masks by only having them on in the hallways in between classes.
Russell did not want to support getting rid of the masks for the rest of the year.
“I would allow it to be more of an option for junior high and elementary to go optional if there is a reason or a request for it. We have done a good job over the course of the year. I’m proud of our administration. I want to go back to the old ways in September,” Russell said.
Lee Gill also agreed with Gunnell and Russell.
Lierman asked about elementary students having to wear masks outside at recess.
Russell didn’t see any issue with not having masks on outside or while students are working out.
Teasdale agreed with no masks outside but didn’t want them to be optional in the building.
Ray supported mask wearing to be voluntary and not requiring them and certainly not requiring them to wear them outside.
Andrews asked about how far students were sitting away from each other and if they would be able to take off their masks while sitting at their desks and only put the masks back on when they leave their desk.
Gunnell felt that would be a policing nightmare for teachers, making sure students were the appropriate spacing away from each other to have the masks off.
Russell made the motion for students to no longer have to wear masks outside while at recess or other activities with Gill seconding. The motion passed unanimously.
Ray questioned if that motion would affect the WIAA’s rules. Lierman stated they would continue to follow the WIAA rules of any student under exertion didn’t have to wear one but while the student sat on the bench they would need one. Also any coaches or spectators would have to wear them as well.Andrews made the motion to make masks optional for students inside the building. Ray seconded motion. The motion failed 4-3 with Andrews, Ray and Teasdale for and Russell, Uehling, Gill, and Gunnell against.