Shawano schools pushing for face-to-face learning

Current county health risk might hamper those plans
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Shawano School Board took its first look at a plan to reopen school doors to students again after having to shut down the buildings three months early via state order due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the pandemic has not subsided, districts around the state are planning to be in school in some form or fashion beginning Sept. 1, the earliest that state law allows public schools to start.

The Shawano School District is planning to have a face-to-face setup five days a week, according to Superintendent Randi Anderson. However, it will depend on Shawano County’s health risk at the given time.

Low and moderate risk will allow for the full-time traditional learning environment, but higher risks will require going to a hybrid learning model and possibly 100% virtual learning. Anderson said that the current health risk for the county as of Monday would put the Shawano public schools in a hybrid mode.

Some board members balked at the idea of having the state of Shawano’s education depending on the county’s numbers, arguing that a surge in total county cases could be coming from other communities, with Shawano’s numbers staying steady or even dropping. Board member Chris Gull argued that having the county numbers be the guide is “placing the blame on someone else,” noting that three doctors from ThedaCare had informed the board earlier in its meeting that health statistics in individual schools would make a better guide.

“Using the county — we need to throw this out because it does not represent what’s going on here in our district, what’s going on in our building,” Gull said. “It’s not based on hard math, and if it’s not based on hard math, it means nothing.”

Board member Bruce Milavitz agreed, noting that the county’s health department cites that there are only 46 active coronavirus cases out of almost 41,000 people living in the county.

“The positive cases are going to go up, but so is the healing,” Milavitz said.

Gull argued that the Shawano-Menominee Counties Health Department does not currently have the authority to shut down any facilities due to coronavirus, and so the school district should not give it to the department, either.

“We’re going to grant authority to people that even their own employers are not granting this authority to?” Gull said. “Absolutely not.”

Board member Chuck Dallas suggested that the district form a committee to monitor health in the schools and recommend whether to stay open if there’s an outbreak in the district.

Masks are not mandatory under the proposed plan, but they will be highly recommended. The district will be depending on parents to screen their own children at the start of each school day for symptoms and temperature.

There is an option for parents concerned about their children’s health to participate in complete virtual learning. Families that want to do this would need to sign up for the option by Aug. 7 and must commit to virtual learning for at least one semester.

Board member Diane Hoffman criticized the plan for not having enough details on how virtual learning would be achieved, noting that internet accessibility is a key obstacle in rural portions of the district.

“I want to know how the virtual is going to be different than it was in the spring,” Hoffman said. “Nobody has told me yet. We’re just going to do it. How are the teachers going to be prepared?”

Citing a questionnaire the district sent to students, Anderson said 60% of respondents said they definitely plan to send their children to school in the fall. Respondents were evenly split on whether they’re in favor of students and staff wearing masks. Only 40% said they would have their children ride the bus.

Anderson said busing will be the last issue determined, once they figure out how many families will be using the buses.

Board member Mart Grams said it’s important to get the students back into school because the recent closure has put their education behind. He argued that not having in-person learning would just frighten families and not help students to learn.

“The AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) in their report, as well the National Education Association, says we’re 2½ years behind, or it will take 2½ years before we can catch these kids,” Grams said. “Anybody here willing to sacrifice a kid 2½ years of their education because they might get a cold?”

Gull agreed, pointing out that the virtual learning offered by the district during the spring was less than successful.

“We cannot have two days a week,” Gull said. “We will fail our kids.”

The board is expected to vote on the plan when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Shawano Community High School library, 220 County Road B, Shawano.