The Superior School Board took a deep dive into planning for school to reopen this fall during the committee of the whole meeting Monday, July 6.

The board won’t approve its COVID-19 recovery education plan for the fall until July 20, but based on discussions Monday, the school day will look different.

In addition to intensified cleaning and training, there would be no shared school supplies, no field trips and no guest speakers. Arrival and dismissal times would be staggered; new breakfast and lunch routines would be implemented; hallway transition plans would be needed; classrooms would be reconfigured and additional space used to keep students socially distant.

The final plan will likely include a mix of classroom and virtual learning.

“We have to think of a variety of scenarios to be able to plan for the school year,” District Administrator Amy Starzecki said. “We are required to social distance and keep kids 6 feet apart until there’s a vaccine, pretty much.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has offered a number of learning models for districts to consider. Starzecki said the Superior School District is considering a four day per week in-class model for elementary students. For secondary schools, which have a higher number of students, the board is considering splitting the grades in half. Each half would attend school on-site two days a week and learn virtually from home the other three. Wednesday would be a virtual learning day for all students and a cleaning/prep day for staff.

“It is crystal clear to me we will not have a plan to please everyone,” Starzecki said, based on parent and staff responses to a recent district survey about the coming school year..

More than 60% of families responded to the survey. Nearly 12% indicated they would request virtual-only learning for the school year. Roughly 31% said busing was their only transportation option. Fifteen percent of families indicated they would need help accessing the internet.

The district used federal CARES Act funding to purchase additional devices to provide one-to-one learning for all students K-12, Starzecki said, and internet support will continue to be provided to families.

One of the most polarizing issues on the survey was mask use, with respondents evenly ranged between those who strongly agreed and strongly disagreed with requiring masks in school.

“This is the big question that I lose sleep over every night, whether the school district should mandate face coverings,” Starzecki said.

Students in the Superior School District may be required to wear masks when they return to school in the fall.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Students in the Superior School District may be required to wear masks when they return to school in the fall. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The DPI’s current guidelines advise districts not to require mask use, but instead encourage their use through modeling and lessons. Starzecki said taking the temperatures of students and staff as they enter the building is not recommended by public health officials, as use of over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can mask a temperature. No decision has been made on temperature screening or masks at this point.

Rob Morehouse asked if the district could attach the Douglas County Health Department’s COVID-19 testing and contact tracing policy to the reopening plan for transparency “so we know what it looks like.”

The district ended the 2019-20 school year with a surplus of $1.2 million due to savings from the move to virtual learning in March, according to business manager Alayna Burger. Those funds will be rolled into the general fund to balance the 2020-21 budget. Starzecki said one of the biggest challenges in the coming year will be human resources, including additional bus monitors and substitutes for sick teachers and staff.

The district will also get a personal protective equipment boost. Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday, July 7, that the state would be distributing more than 2 million cloth face masks and 4,200 infrared thermometers to K-12 schools, food processors and businesses across the state. Additional funding for COVID-19 related costs may be available through the state, the board was told.

Athletics and activities

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has not provided guidelines for athletics and activities, Starzecki said, so the district is taking its lead from the National Federation of State High School Athletics, which divides sports into low, moderate and high risk.

“Practices and competitions could resume depending on which kind of sport you’re in,” Starzecki said. “Based on what I’m seeing, football doesn’t look like they’ll have competitions because it’s the highest risk, but we’re still working through some of those logistics.”

Some sports, like basketball and volleyball, could potentially hold practices and competitions.

“But we’re real limited to not mixing with other students from other communities where there’s higher transmission rates,” the district administrator said.

Staff will meet next week to set up guidelines for band and choir students to meet and practice in small groups, board members were told.

"We have to think differently about the learning kids are doing," said Crystal Hintzman, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district.

Action to be taken

The regular board meeting will be held at the Superior Middle School July 13 to allow the public to attend and remain socially distant. The board will meet at 5 p.m. The meeting can also be viewed live online through the district website.

The board is expected to take action on a number of issues July 13, including the following:

  • A policy outlining the recording and publishing of school board meetings, which have been recorded since the district moved to a virtual meeting platform this spring in response to COVID-19.
  • An addendum to the employee handbook outlining pandemic protocols.
  • A resolution deferring academic eligibility grade requirements for athletics and activities for all students until the first grading period of the 2020-21 school year.

This story originally contained the incorrect time for the July 13 board meeting. It was originally posted July 10 at 8:38 a.m. and updated at 12:45 p.m. July 13 with the correct time. The Telegram regrets the error.