Shawano schools staying closed another month

District praises staff for extra work during pandemic
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Shawano School District announced that it will remain in full virtual learning mode through Jan. 4, extending its closure for at least another month, as school officials are claiming they’re going above and beyond to make sure students are learning and getting any help they need.

Superintendent Randi Anderson said Tuesday in a letter to families that, upon looking at the local health data and reviewing its re-entry plan, it was necessary to extend its virtual learning situation, which was originally due to expire at the end of November.

“We also know it is difficult to see smaller schools in our area return to in-person instruction and want to reassure you that returning our students to in-person learning is our priority as soon as it is safe to do so,” Anderson wrote in the letter. “We are monitoring recent developments in rapid testing availability and vaccine rollouts in the near future.”

Anderson praised her staff during Monday’s school board meeting, saying teachers and other employees have conducted home visits, helped out with internet issues and more.

“We’ve done over 150 home visits just in one of our buildings,” Anderson said, not specifying which school has done that.

She noted that the school district has offered internet cafes for families dealing with poor or nonexistent internet connections, even having a dinner event at Hillcrest Primary School to encourage families to reach out.

Anderson said that the special education and pupil services departments have worked hard to bring in students with special needs on an individualized basis to get the in-person attention they need while minimizing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. She also praised the food services department for providing free breakfasts and lunches seven days a week.

The district has brought in more than 200 students individually on a weekly basis to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks academically, according to Anderson.

“As we move forward in this virtual environment, please reach out and get the support you need from the district,” Anderson said. “I know how hard this is. I know how difficult this is. We’re going to continue to assess where we’re at, looking at our numbers and our gating criteria that we established back in August.”

Board president Tyler Schmidt, speaking as a parent, said that teachers have made themselves available as much as possible during virtual learning, even late at night. He encouraged other parents to reach out, too.

“If your child has an issue, if there’s something they’re not getting, we’ve been having conversations with teachers early in the morning, later in the evening,” Schmidt said. “They’ve been available anytime for us. We even did a Google meet right from my machine at work while I was loading a semi.”

The virtual learning is not setting well with at least one parent outside the schools. Jim Davel, speaking during the board’s community comments portion, told the board he has children in fifth and eighth grades, and having students learning virtually for three months last spring and more than two months currently is not helping them learn what they need to.

“The virtual learning, honestly, is not doing it,” Davel said. “I think you’re fooling yourself if you think it’s working well, and I think the board needs to focus its efforts and prioritize getting these students back in school.”

Davel noted the students won’t be able to get that time back. He believes it is necessary for staff to take more precautions to avoid falling ill so that they can safely teach students in a classroom again, adding that the company he works for is not seeing a high rate of absenteeism.

“The most we ever had out at one time is 13,” Davel said, noting that his company has 500 people. “All of the things that people have been talking about in terms of hand washing, no gatherings, etc., needs to be reinforced.”