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It's an all virtual start for KUSD
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It's an all virtual start for KUSD

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A consistent theme throughout Tuesday night’s Kenosha Unified School District Board of Education meeting was a deep desire to get children back in classrooms this fall.

However, the reality spoke otherwise.

Following a failed vote to offer either in-person or virtual learning to start the 2020-21 school year, the board approved a motion by a 5-2 vote to begin 100% virtually. An end date for all-virtual was not included in the motion, but will be decided later.

Voting in favor were Board President Tom Duncan, Vice President Mary Modder, Treasurer Yolanda Adams and board members Tony Garcia and Rebecca Stevens. Clerk Dan Wade and member Todd Battle were against.

The approved motion had just the opposite outcome as the first, with Wade and Battle as the only two votes in favor of giving parents a choice of how they want their children educated.

With the continuing unknown of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, finding a perfect solution for everyone isn’t an easy hill to climb, Superintendent Dr. Sue Savaglio-Jarvis said.

But at the of the day, everyone involved has a common goal.

“It is essential that we as educators and a community are committed to students receiving high-quality instruction and continuity of learning,” she said. “We are committed to working with our community to provide excellent, challenging learning opportunities our families deserve and respect.”

When districts across the state suddenly had to close their doors when the pandemic hit in mid-March, finding the best method to continue delivering education wasn’t a quick fix, Savaglio-Jarvis said.

But she expressed confidence that the time that’s elapsed leading to the start of school in September has given the district the opportunity to better prepare this time around.

“This school year must include enhancements based on what we learned in the spring,” she said. “We recognize in some instances that we did not do the greatest job. However, for the fall of 2020 and beyond, we assure you that all learning we provide will be vastly different.”

Time to monitor COVID-19 cases

Waiting to decide when the all-virtual learning will transition to in-person gives the district flexibility while it watches how the pandemic progresses.

“You don’t want to put a date on this,” Savaglio-Jarvis said. “How do we educate our community to support those things that need to happen so we can get our children back in school? You don’t want to put a time of October or November.

“We want our students back, so the faster we can do that, we’d love to do that, whatever that looks like. We have to monitor (the cases of the virus) as a team. ... We will watch this very closely.”

District parents twice were surveyed for their input. The first drew 8,674 responses with 28% preferring in-person to virtual. In a second one sent out earlier this month, 13,071 responded with 42% favoring virtual.

Staff members surveyed the second time favored virtual learning by 63.5%.

In a communication sent out to district families Wednesday, KUSD officials stated a special board meeting will be held Tuesday, Aug. 18, to continue discussions on how the plan will proceed. More action may be taken at the next regular board meeting Tuesday, Aug. 25.

The plan

KUSD Chief of School Leadership Sue Valeri laid out expectations for both students and staff in a virtual setting.

Staff will teach from their classrooms, which differs in how the eSchool delivers instruction, Valeri said. In addition, staff will use district curriculum resources, collaborate with colleagues, share materials, utilize KUSD WiFi and provide continuous feedback on student work.

Students will be expected to log in, participate, turn work in on time and they will be held accountable, Valeri said, which was difficult with the sudden closure in March.

“The closures took us all off-guard, took us all by surprise,” she said. “The students did not have the technology that they needed. We now have a plan to distribute one-to-one. We didn’t have weekly expectations, take attendance for kids. We weren’t grading.

“... Now we are making sure all our kids are going to have a device. We are going to be purposeful. The teachers are going to lead the instruction. We will be using our curriculum. We will be grading. We will have daily expectations. We will be taking attendance, and we will be addressing learning gaps. From spring 2020 to fall 2020, we are going to look very, very different for our virtual learning.”

Students in kindergarten through second grade will use the Seesaw virtual platform, while third- to 12th-grade students will utilize Google Classroom to access content, assignments and other learning activities.

The district has completed about 30% of its computer distribution to date and also plans to secure hot spots to ensure that students can access the internet. So far, 1,500 hot spots have been purchased with another 1,500 on reserve.

Differing views

Wade, who favored the first motion to provide both in-person and virtual as options, said it all comes down to a choice.

And in this instance, he would have preferred to see that decision come down to the individual families.

“This has always been, in my opinion, a country of choice,” he said. “A lot of countries do not have choices to make. A lot of the parents, grandparents, students themselves, that I’ve spoken to the last three weeks or so, every single one of them wanted to go back to school.

“... This (initial) plan offers a choice to the parents on a decision that could be life-altering for the family and the family unit, that’s not a decision that I should be making. That’s a decision that the parents, the family unit, should be making for their family.”

Duncan, who also is vice president of Froedtert South, said he was opposed to a physical return to school, as the numbers of daily COVID-19 cases continue to escalate.

Duncan provided the board with the most up-to-date information that showed a steady increase of positive cases. On July 6, he said, the county had an average of 25 positives a day; the county had 37, 38 and 47 a day the next three weeks, and Monday saw 70.

“We’re not suppressing this virus,” he said. “(Those numbers) aren’t going in the right direction.”

Duncan said he clearly wants students back to school, but that’s not a wise decision with the numbers the way they are.

“Our own Kenosha County Health Department is saying it won’t be safe,” he said. “I think this is a medical catastrophe and social. I want the kids back in school. There’s no question we want our kids back in school, but we have to be sure we’re doing so safely.”

Modder said the community has a significant role to play in getting students back to school.

“Hopefully, the community will get serious about doing what they need to do to stop the spread by wearing masks, social distancing, common sense things,” she said.

Stevens agreed.

“Our goal is to get the kids back into school, all of them that want to be there to learn in person,” she said. “We need the community to help. That means, don’t go down to the beaches then. ... There are so many things that we can do as a community right now to be proactive.”

The question was raised at the end of the meeting regarding extracurricular activities if students are not physically in school, but no answer or direction was given. At its WIAA Board of Control meeting last week, it was announced by that body that decisions regarding sports would be handled by individual districts.

The board meeting was held both online on YouTube and in person. At one point, nearly 2,400 people were viewing the live stream.

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