NORTH CRAWFORD - Those with crystal balls may be able to forecast what the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic will be this fall, but school districts don’t seem to be so lucky. Add to that, more than the usual uncertainty about what kind of revenue the schools can expect, and the politics out in front of the presidential election, and you have a perfect storm.
At their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, June 17, the North Crawford School Board and school administrators grappled with all of these complex and interwoven issues. The meeting included discussion and action on plans to reopen school in the fall of 2020, hiring a full-time school nurse, approval of a preliminary budget, discussion of how virtual learning could be improved, and transportation.
“There are going to be lots of different opinions about opening the school in the fall,” North Crawford School District Administrator Brandon Munson said. “Unfortunately, the topic has become very political and we anticipate that our communication around the issue will be critical.”
Fall of 2020
Munson reported to the board the results of a parent survey recently conducted.
“We received 183 responses,” Munson said. “Given that we have 460 students in the school, with some households having more than one student, we are very pleased with the response.”
The first question asked parents to rate their experience with the distance learning that had occurred in the spring semester after the ‘Safer at Home’ order went into effect in March. Parents were asked to rate the experience on a scale of 1-5, with five being the most favorable.
The most favorable rating (5) was selected by 50 of the 183 respondents (27.3 percent); 46 parents rated the experience as a ‘4,’ (25.1 percent); 33 parents selected the middle rating of ‘3,’ (18 percent); 22 parents selected ‘2,’ (12 percent); and 32 parents selected the least favorable rating of ‘1,’ (17.5 percent).
“Our district had very little time to pull off the distance learning strategy that we employed in the spring 2020 semester,” Munson said. “The fact that 70.4 percent of parents responded in the 3-5 range is a great success as far as I’m concerned.”
Munson told the board that what the district had done in the spring semester under emergency conditions was not truly ‘distance learning,’ but was rather ‘emergency remote learning.’
“For this coming fall semester, now we know what we know,” Munson said. “We are moving forward with planning to reopen in the fall, but we already know that some families are not going to be comfortable, and will opt to continue with virtual learning.”
Munson said that, based on the planning that staff has been doing over the summer, he feels good about the district’s direction with virtual learning.
“I don’t want our district to be in a reactive mode like we were in March,” Munson said. “We are formulating plans to have robust systems in place, and we know that if we don’t offer this option, some families will find a district that will offer virtual learning to them. On the other hand, if we do offer a quality virtual learning option, we could very well gain some families who can’t get what they need from another district.”
The second question on the survey was, “When looking ahead to next year, our family hopes…”
Of the 183 survey responses, 118 (64.5 percent) selected “to send our children to the building given safety measures are in place.” The second greatest number (9.8 percent) selected “to opt for a full virtual model and not send our children to the building.” All other responses received only a small fraction of responses. The other major possibility, “a mixture of both,” received only a small fraction of responses.The third survey question was, “If health guidelines recommend that we not have all students in the building at the same time, which option do you believe would best meet the needs of your family?”
About 65 of the 183 respondents (35.5 percent) selected the ‘alternating students who are in the building Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday,’ (days not in the building would be virtual); about 38 of the 183 respondents (20.8 percent) selected ‘alternating students who are in the building every other day’ (days not in the building would be virtual); about 30 of the 183 respondents (15.8 percent) selected ‘opt to do full virtual under this type of model’; about 21 of the 183 respondents (11.5 percent) selected the ‘alternating students who are in the building weekly’ (days not in the building would be virtual).
Munson told the board that he anticipated calling a special meeting of the board in early July to roll out the district’s proposal for the fall reopening.
“Our planning is still in progress, but is coming together nicely,” Munson said. “Right now, we are leaning towards an option of using a blended in-person and virtual approach with the middle school/high school students, and an all in-person approach with elementary students.”
Munson said that the planning committee is composed of the four administrators and nine staff members. He said they have also broken the group into four sub-committees: Virtual Learning, Pre-K through 5; Grades 6-12; and Safety.
Munson told the board that given the COVID-19 measures that will be required for districts in the fall, he recommends hiring a full time school nurse position (35-40 hours per week), at a competitive wage, depending on experience.
“We are going to have to check student temperatures, follow up on any reports of student illness, manage communication with the county’s public health department, and oversee any need to quarantine students or staff,” Munson said. “I’d be more comfortable if there was one person on staff that was responsible for overseeing all of this, rather than spreading it out among existing staff.”
Board member Judy Powell had some valuable input about the hiring decision. Given Powell’s career in nursing and background in public health, the board welcomed her experienced voice.
“I highly recommend we start recruitment at a higher wage than has been proposed,” Powell said. “If you go too low, you’re not going to get the kind of expertise you’re going to need to effectively manage this situation.”
Powell said that in addition to the need to provide health services, she foresees there will also be a need for a ramped up health education effort.
After the board approved Munson to move forward with recruiting for a full time school nurse position, Munson thanked the board profusely. He said that he sees being able to put a competent individual in the position as critical to the district’s success in reopening in the fall.
Munson told the board he had surveyed parents about their willingness or interest in transporting their children to school in the fall versus sending them on the bus.
“We will have to reduce the capacity of our buses in the fall to maintain social distancing,” Munson said. “What this means is that if we transported all the students we normally transport, we would have to run two routes instead of one at the beginning and the end of each day.”
Munson said that if enough parents agree to transport their children, then it would become logistically possible to transport the other children without adding routes.
“We are also going to need to put in place sanitation and cleaning measures on the buses,” Munson said. “’All of this will means that our transportation logistics next school year are going to be more complicated.”
Munson reported that in working up his preliminary 2020-21 school year budget, he had gone from an initial $200,000 deficit to a $27,519 deficit.
“This preliminary budget doesn’t reflect any cuts to programs, it’s just pared down to the bare bones,” Munson said. “Ordinarily, our budget contains a buffer to protect the district against unanticipated financial demands, whereas this one is ‘skinnied’ down and is based on actual spending from previous years.”
Munson said that he has learned that Governor Evers plans to use a portion of the federal CARES grant spending for K-12 school districts in the state, and this has changed the financial outlook for the district.
“I am estimating that North Crawford will receive about $100,000 from the CARES grant funds,” Munson said. “The funds will be distributed in part based on district’s needs in areas such as internet connectivity, etc.”
Grounds and buildings
Superintendent Munson presented a proposal for board discussion and approval for two phases of reopening the school buildings and grounds.
As proposed, Phase Onewould be effective as of July 1, 2020. The school buildingwould be open only for use with school groups, following county recommendations of 50 or less people indoors and maintaining social distancing as much as possible, wearing masks when appropriate and if not able to social distance. The groundswould be open only for use with school groups, following county recommendations of 100 or less people outdoors, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, and wearing masks when appropriate and if not able to social distance. The Fitness Shedwould be open only for use by current North Crawford staff and students, with adult supervision at all times when students are present, limited to 15 students plus adult supervision, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, with certain equipment taped off to promote social distancing, masks should not be worn when doing physical activity, users must follow all existing Shed rules and procedures, and group sizes may change depending on restrictions being lifted by Crawford County.
“I think we should consider letting the community walk around the track and use the playground during phase one,” board member Judy Powell said.
“I disagree,” board member Tanya Forkash said. “We can all see for instance the spike in cases we’re seeing right now in LaCrosse. I think caution is indicated.”
“I agree with Tanya,” board member Jill Stefonek said. “Proceeding cautiously is better.”
“The playground concerns me more than the track,” Munson said. “People can maintain distance on the track, but if we opened up the playground, we would have to have a robust sanitation plan.”
“I would like to know what the state and/or county’s guidelines are for reopening fitness centers,” board member Jim Dworschack said.
Munson said he would reach out to Crawford County Director of Public Health about guidelines for reopening of fitness centers.
Phase Twoof the reopening will be effective as of September 1, 2020. The school buildingwould be open for use with school and non-school groups; groups must follow existing facility use requests and county recommendations of sizes of gatherings, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, wearing masks when appropriate and if not able to social distance. The groundswould be open for use by school and non-school groups, following county recommendations of sizes of gatherings, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, and wearing masks when appropriate and if not able to social distance. The Fitness Shedwould be open for use by school and community, student users would require adult supervision at all times, capacity would be limited to 15 users plus supervision, restricted community use outside of student hours would be allowed, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, with certain equipment taped off to promote social distancing, and the recommendation is not to wear a mask when doing physical activity, users must follow all existing Shed rules and procedures, and group sizes will be dependent on restrictions in place by Crawford County.
The board approved the reopening plan as presented.
In other business, the North Crawford School Board:
• heard about collaborative efforts between elementary, middle school/high school, and special education staff to evaluate what had worked and where improvements could be made in the virtual learning experience
• heard that elementary teachers are working to evaluate different literacy curriculum options, and hope to make a recommendation to the board by the end of the 2020-21 school year
• heard that the district will offer two summer school sessions. The first credit recovery session will run from June 22 to July 17, and will be entirely virtual; the second will be hosted at school with safety measures in place to minimize risk of spread for our students and teachers, and serve as a trial run for the fall reopening
• heard that an in-person graduation ceremony is planned for August 1 in the school gymnasium if health guidelines permit gatherings of up to 100 people. Each student will be given two tickets to invite guests, and the ceremony will also be viewable live online
• heard that special education students, according to DPI, could be eligible for compensatory services due to services not delivered in the spring semester, but will not automatically be eligible. The determination will be based on evaluations of the magnitude of loss of skills, and the district has six months from the beginning of the school year to make the determinations.
• accepted the retirement of elementary school teacher Lisa Greene• voted to cease the district’s co-pay for driver’s education instruction in order to help the district’s overall budget.