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School board reaches consensus on reopening
North Crawford
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - Taking two long meetings, two days apart, to come together around consensus for a fall reopening plan, the North Crawford School Board approved the ‘Return to Learn’ plan for the 2020-21 school year. The board met for four hours on Monday, July 20, and two-and-one-half hours on Wednesday, July 21.

The specifics of the plan for the ucpoming year are summarized by Superintendent Brandon Munson:
On Wednesday, July 22, the North Crawford School Board approved the district’s reopening plan known as their ‘Return to Learn’ plan. The plan was developed under the advisement of North Crawford teachers and administrators, following guidance from different federal and local groups including the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Department of Public Instruction, and the Crawford County Public Health Department. The main priority of the reopening plan is to balance staff and student safety with the need for students to have face-to-face instruction. The ‘Return to Learn’ plan offers students and families instructional options from which they can choose. One of these options is the Hybrid Plan, which is a blend of face-to-face in-struction with distance learning. In Kindergarten through 6th grade, students electing this plan will be in school for face-to-face in-struction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The grades 7-12 students will attend school for face-to-face instruction two days a week, with distance learn-ing the other three days. Early Childhood students will still attend four days a week in the mornings, with Wednesdays off. Four-year-old kindergarten will attend school two full days, either Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday, with Wednesdays off. No students will attend school on Wednesdays. This will allow the district to perform a weekly deep cleaning of the building, allow staff to participate in professional learning, and give staff appropriate time to plan for in-person and virtual teaching. The dis-trict is hoping to take a phased approach, and reevaluate the current plan with possible changes being implemented at the quarter or semester. The second instructional option for families will be a full-time virtual program, where students learn from home five days a week. The district will work with third party companies to provide online curriculum options. The district will provide each student with the necessary technology to complete online activities. Additionally, the district will assign an instructional coach to assist students and families with any questions they may have regarding the curriculum. The district will also provide students and families with support services as deemed appro-priate. Full-time virtual students will be able to par-ticipate in all North Craw-ford extra and co-curricular activities. To be able to safely in-struct students in-person, the district will be imple-menting many safety proto-cols and guidelines this school year. All students will have their temperatures taken daily before boarding the school bus or before coming into the building. Additionally, all staff and visitors to the building will have temperatures taken daily. All students, staff, and visitors to the building will be expected to wear a face covering when feasible. Physical distancing will be practiced by all when possible inside and outside the building. The district is working with the custodial staff to develop cleaning and sani-tizing protocols in the dis-trict. The protocols will include the regular cleaning of high touch surfaces, as well as daily cleaning pro-tocols. Every Wednesday the custodial staff will per-form a deep clean of the entire building. North Crawford’s new full-time school nurse, John Powell, will be working with the district to develop health guidelines for all staff and students. If a student or staff presents COVID-like symptoms, they will be assessed in a separate nurse’s office, and sent home, where they will receive guidance from a medical provider. Additionally, if a staff or student tests positive for COVID, the district will work directly with Crawford County Public Health to contact trace, and determine which individuals were directly exposed and would need to quarantine for up to 14 days. Most importantly, North Crawford staff will be working diligently with students on good hygiene and cleanliness practices to help mitigate the spread of the virus. There is no doubt the coming school year will present many challenges. The district is looking forward to working hand in hand with staff, students, and parents to create a safe, positive learning environ-ment for all.
Superintendent Brandon Munson

“There’s no right answer, and we have been tasked as educators to hit a moving target when it comes to safely reopening our schools this fall,” Munson said. “Our reopening team has examined the topic from every angle, and the most important thing was that we put together a team, evaluated all of our resources, and worked together to formulate the best plan.”

Munson explained to the board that the decision of whether, when and how to reopen the school is a local school district decision.

“The specifics of our reopening is not being dictated by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Department of Health Services or the Crawford County Health Department,” Munson said. “What the board needs to do in making this decision is to hear about the plan we are recommending, address any of our differences of opinion, and then support the plan once there is consensus.”

Munson said that with any plan for reopening, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

“We are working with Crawford County Public Health Department very closely, and they continue to emphasize that the number one way to minimize risk of exposure is social distancing,” Munson said. “Masks are important, but they are meant to be in addition to social distancing.”

Board concerns

After the administrative team had presented the ‘Return to Learn’ plan at the Monday meeting, each board member was given the opportunity to raise concerns and ask questions.

Judy Powell:why will you have Wednesdays off – if it’s to clean the building, couldn’t that be done after school? Will the middle school and high school students be required to be engaged in learning from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, and how will that be verified?

Middle School/High School Principal Toby Tripalin: Middle school and high school students will be required in multiple ways to demonstrate that they are engaged in learning on the days they attend school virtually at home. They will be required to check in on a class period basis, and there will be repercussions for non-compliance.

Brandon Munson: if there are athletics then the building would not be available to be cleaned until after 9 or 10 p.m. Also, with the extra demand of teaching both in-class and virtually, we will need the time for staff development. 

Ed Heisz:why can’t we just do regular block classes? If there are athletics, how will the students at home doing virtual education get to the school to participate in athletics? Will the kids be responsible for cleaning up their own areas?

Toby Tripalin: the reason why regular block classes won’t work is, for example, not everyone continues on with every subject once they have enough credits to graduate – math is a good example. Also, the schedule as we’ve configured it will make it easier to return to having the kids back in school five days a week – if and when that can happen.

Brandon Munson: to get the virtual school kids back to school for athletics, we may have to run an extra bus route. As far as cleaning, there are certain chemicals that we don’t want the children handling. We are going to try to handle the cleaning responsibilities with our current staff, but we are not totally certain that we won’t need some additional staff.

Mary Kuhn:where is the parent consideration in this plan? I share Judy’s concern about Wednesdays, especially for seventh graders. We have a large percentage of low-income families in our district, and those parents need to work.

Brandon Munson: we have gone back and forth on this issue. Given the priority to maintain social distancing, we started with our youngest students, and worked our way up. We found we could accommodate social distancing only up to seventh grade. One big difference between what happened last spring, and the plan for this fall is that we will be able to see our students multiple times every week.

Toby Tripalin: the instructional delivery starting in the fall will be completely different than it was in the spring. Perhaps most important, we have added a strong attendance component.

Mary Kuhn: I still don’t feel like my question has been answered.

Brandon Munson: to answer your question, we need to consider the alternative of bringing all of the kids back into the building at the same time. For instance, if we had no capacity to create social distancing and there was a positive case in the high school, then we would have to shut the high school down for two weeks. If we follow the guidelines for social distancing, then we can’t have all of the kids in the building every day.

Mary Kuhn: when the kids are learning virtually, will they be online eight hours per day?

Toby Tripalin: they will be online for check-ins with teachers and for direct instruction. Last year, DPI required four-to-five hours per day.

Tanya Forkash:first, I want to say “thank you” to the team that put this plan together. What I want to know is how are the staff feeling? If someone tests positive, what’s the plan? If staff are required to quarantine, will they be paid? If school has to shut down, how will that be decided?

Brandon Munson: lots of staff members are concerned, scared and unsure. When asked to rate their comfort level about returning to the building on a scale of one to five, with five being the most comfortable, 10 staff members responded with a one or two, and most of the responses were threes. Even the staff who responded with a three seemed uneasy.

If a student tests positive, the County Health Department will step in immediately. If the positive is in the elementary school, it will be easier – the student, the cohort, the teacher and siblings will have to quarantine. It’s harder in the middle school and high school. If we get a positive test there it could be 20-25 students, and all staff members – that’s why face coverings are essential.

The board will decide how teacher pay will work if a teacher has to quarantine. My feeling is that if a teacher is forced to quarantine, their time will be paid without having to use paid time off or sick leave.

As far as who will decide when a shut down will happen, it will be a collaboration between the district and Crawford County Health Department. The county defines an outbreak as two or more cases in a facility.

Jill Stefonek:this seems like a pretty solid plan. I don’t think there’s any way to anticipate everything or accommodate everyone. It will involve some strain for families, but less than if there was no in-person instruction at all. The most important thing is that kids be in an environment where they can learn and have some social interaction. I don’t have any huge concerns – everything is a risk, and we need to do everything that we can to reduce the risks.

Jim Dworschack:I think this plan is an excellent starting point, but I would like a few clarifications, and have one comment. Will the virtual learning involve teacher prep or be canned? If COVID becomes totally out of control, then will in-person instruction be shut down and students transitioned to virtual learning? What about choir and band? My comment is that perhaps the district should look into renting tents for outdoor instruction.

Brandon Munson: the full time virtual instruction will be a “canned” program, but teachers will handle the virtual instruction for the students who are attending in-person classes part of the week. Yes, if COVID is totally out of control, then we would transition all students to virtual instruction, and having them using the platforms part of the week would make that transition easier should it come to pass.

When I met with the other school districts in southwest Wisconsin, the comment was made that it would be “crazy to try to run a music program” because singing is a very high risk activity. We don’t know yet – perhaps we could explore outside instruction, weather permitting.

Toby Tripalin: music and physical education are tough classes to figure out.

Other input

After the board had finished with their questions, it was opened up to parents and others attending the meeting to ask questions or have input.

Erika Wilson:if the district is trying to reduce risk with social distancing, masks and hygiene, then why wouldn’t we require masks for elementary students?

Elementary School Principal Amanda Killen: masks for elementary students are highly recommended, but if we require masks for the younger children, then we have to stand by it. There are issues with trying to get very young children to keep a mask on all day.

Reporter:what accommodations will be made for hard-of-hearing students who may need to read lips to fully access instruction or social interaction?

Cara Wood: we will have clear masks, and many teachers have already requested them. We are also looking into face shields.

At the end of the Monday meeting, which concluded at 11 p.m., the board voted to table a decision until their meeting on Wednesday.

Wednesday discussion

Opening the ‘Return to Learn’ discussion at their Wednesday, July 22 meeting, Munson said that the reopening team had added a few slides to their presentation that would help to clear up some of the questions from the last meeting.

“We have eliminated in-service days from the 2020-21 calendar because we will have time on Wednesdays for staff professional development,” Munson said. “Given the challenges the teachers will face in mastering new instructional platforms and maintaining safety in their classrooms, we feel that time for professional development and lesson planning will be very important.”

Elementary Principal Amanda Killeen explained that the plan calls for elementary students to engage in virtual learning on Wednesdays so that, in the event of a classroom or school shut down, the young students would have the chance to develop proficiency in use of the virtual learning platforms.

Middle School/High School Principal Toby Tripalin explained how the attendance aspect of virtual learning would work.

“There will be a time stamped check-in requirement with some simple questions to verify that the student had participated in the lesson,” he explained. “Students will be required to check their e-mail and messages in Google Classroom three times per day, and will have a virtual live meeting in the morning and a check in with their homeroom teacher in the afternoon.”

He said that the rest of the day, the teachers will work on assignments, hold individual student meetings, and do other preparation, including check-ins with parents as-needed.

Brandon Munson explained that the fourth and fifth grade students will be required to wear masks during transitions, whenever they leave their classrooms, or upon entering or leaving the building.

Final consensus

After a discussion that was more brief than at the Monday meeting, the board eventually was able to reach consensus and vote to approve the ‘Return to Learn’ plan for reopening North Crawford School District for the 2020-21 year.

There were a few discussion points that required some thorough discussion and deep thinking.

Mary Kuhn:will the success of this plan be evaluated after the first quarter? What if a student arrives at school or the bus and doesn’t have a mask? Are the foodservice logistics realistic?

Brandon Munson: it is our goal to re-evaluate this plan on an ongoing basis, and to be guided by the Crawford County metrics in the Coulee COVID Compass. We are hopeful that the situation with the virus will improve over time.

Toby Tripalin: instructionally, we will be looking at it on a weekly basis.

Brandon Munson: one thing to keep in mind with foodservice is that it won’t be like what we’ve been doing this summer - providing food to every student in the district who wants it. The logistics in the school year will look more like the numbers of students who choose to eat school meals, and not every student does.

We are receiving a shipment of 1,000 cloth masks from the State of Wisconsin, and 1,000 masks from a local group of volunteer mask sewers. These extra masks will be available on the buses and at the front doors.

Jim Dworschack:overall the plan looks good, but I’d like to discuss mask wearing more. I believe we need to do everything possible to mitigate the risks of the pandemic, and so I think that all students should wear masks at all times.

Tanya Forkash: I believe we should follow the guidelines on masks.

Ed Heisz: I have two grandkids in the school. Maybe the third grader could wear a mask all day, but it’s hard to imagine the first grader doing so. I agree that strongly encouraging them to wear masks is good, but I don’t want to see us mandate it and then have the teachers struggle with it all day.

Brandon Munson: I have read the data that indicates that when a kid turns ten, then their risk of spreading COVID is the same as an adults. The state mandates that are being put in place require everyone over the age of two to wear a mask.

Mary Kuhn: I don’t think that requiring masks will work with the youngest children.

Judy Powell: what if a kid refuses to wear a mask – then what?

Brandon Munson: if we issue a mandate, then we’re required to enforce it. From a legal standpoint, the only way the district would face a legal liability is if a teacher did not enforce the rules – not if the kids occasionally have their mask off.

Tanya Forkash: I want to make sure that the teachers are not only prepared and proficient, but also that they’re okay.

At this point some teachers participating in the meeting were encouraged to provide input.

Shelley Biggin: I think that the fourth and fifth grade students are the leaders of the elementary school, and should be encouraged to set a good example. Kids have to wear masks at a doctors office – they need to get used to it.

Julie Kruizenga: I teach second grade, and I believe that masks are needed, but I don’t support issuing a mandate – we have to be creative and find a way to get it done.

Erika Wilson: young kids are capable of wearing masks – they’re doing it all over the world.

Sarah Haefer: I teach first grade, and I have spoken with fourth and fifth grade teachers. Teachers want to protect the kids, we need to model responsible behavior, but its never going to be 100 percent effective.

Jill Stefonek: in order to reach consensus on our reopening plan, I move that we use the language “it is the North Crawford School District’s expectation that everyone entering the building or participating in a classroom will wear a mask whenever possible.”

Brandon Munson: requiring masks is no different than the school having a dress code. As with enforcement of our dress code, we will make our best concerted effort. We can also require a medical excuse from a doctor if a child is to be exempted from wearing a mask.

Other business

In other business on Monday, July 20, the North Crawford School Board:

• hired John Powell as the full-time school nurse

• transferred Shelly Biggin to teaching second grade for the 2020-21 school year

• tabled a decision about fall athletics until the WIAA board makes their decision

• amended the 2020-21 school year calendar to add two additional staff development days in August, and removed all staff in-service days during the school year.  There is no concern at this point with needing to make up snow days, as we will have a virtual option for students to use if needed.

In other business, on Wednesday, July 22, the board:

• approved a contract to purchase 25,000 gallons of propane in 2020-21 – with an $18,555 credit for the 2019-20 school year because the buses did not run after March.

• approved the fall co-curricular coaches: football head coach Jeremy Fradette, with Anders Unseth, Andy Watters and Dave Pastorino as assistants; middle school football: Beau Blaha and John Powell; volleyball, Vicki Stevenson as head coach, with Carrie Galindo as assistant; middle school volleyball: Alyssa Page and Sarah Haefer; cross country: Liz Bransky as head coach, TBD assistant; cheerleading: Erika Wilson

• approved making no price increase in foodservice meal prices

• approved a contract with Access Security for security software and devices for $18,969.79

• set the district annual meeting for October 19 at 6 p.m.