Shawano School Board divided on tweaking reentry plan

SCHS students to attend school one day a week instead of two
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

UPDATED: Aug. 18, 11:20 a.m.

The Shawano School Board was divided Monday on approving an amendment to the school district’s re-entry plan that would keep the district from starting the school year in a virtual environment.

Shawano County recently went to a high-risk category regarding the spread of the coronavirus, and with the plan approved by the board two weeks earlier, being high risk would require holding school online and keeping the buildings closed.

The amendment adds a second level of hybrid learning that would only impact Shawano Community High School students. Instead of students being able to attend school two days a week with the other three in a virtual learning environment, they would be in school one day with the other four learning online.

“We want to be able to open, and we want to be able to stay open,” Randi Anderson, district superintendent, said, explaining the rationale for the updated plan.

The high school has about 770 students, according to principal Scott Zwirschitz. About 100 are opting for all virtual learning, leaving 670 students to come to school. Dividing the population by four would put almost 170 students in SCHS on a given day.

“When you have half of the student body in the halls, that still causes some congestion, which impacts our ability to create space (for social distancing),” Zwirschitz said. “If we have 25% of our students here, that would definitely open up the hallways.”

The second level of hybrid learning would not impact the frequency of other students attending school. Elementary students would be in school five days a week, while middle school students would spend two days in school and three online.

The second level of hybrid learning would apply whenever the county’s health risk was high and the number of active cases are either shrinking or not experiencing any change. If there is a high health risk and the number of cases are growing, the school district would shift to a virtual environment.

Board member Bruce Milavitz, who voted against the amended plan with Chris Gull and Mart Grams, felt it was unwise to put the high school students on four days of virtual learning and said it could result in lots of students falling behind. He noted that the board was satisfied with the social distancing in place with the first level of hybrid learning, so he suggested extending those provisions to the areas of the plan that the second hybrid level would cover.

“I am so concerned that, if we go one day a week and four days virtual, there are going to be a lot of kids left behind,” Milavitz said.

Board member Michael Sleeper favored the amendment, reiterating that, without adjusting the plan, Shawano’s public schools would be in a total virtual environment on day one.

“I look at it being like a marginal swimmer jumping into the water and finding out I can’t swim well enough,” Sleeper said. “If I go into the shallow end and work my way up, there’s a whole lot better chance of success. That’s how I see this. If it’s overly cautious, we will win. If it’s overly ambitious, we could be in virtual (learning) for weeks or months.”

Sleeper also suggested keeping close watch on the health conditions and finding ways to safely move into a learning model that has older students in school more days.

Even though the plan alters the schedule significantly for SCHS, the other three schools in the district are having to make adjustments under the new plan. Hillcrest Primary School principal Troy Edwards had to bring in additional desks because the tables alone were not enough for social distancing. Olga Brener Intermediate School principal Terri Schultz reassigned intervention staff members to teach in order to lower classroom student counts. Shawano Community Middle School principal Stuart Russ reported having to add additional lunch periods to maintain social distancing.

The elementary and middle schools will require special classes like art to come to the students. At SCMS, teachers will switch classrooms instead of students, avoiding crowds in the halls.

At all of the schools, there can be no gatherings of more than 70 people, impacting some school activities like assemblies.

Anderson said district officials have been looking at what other states and even other countries have been doing to reopen schools to see what has worked and what hasn’t.

“We need to figure out how we can open and what we can do to make that happen,” Anderson said.