There is little question that any possible return to school in the fall is going to look much different than the past.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced that hand.
Just how the more than 21,000 children in Kenosha Unified School District will be educated remains a big question, but the School Board and several teachers and administrators began that process by unveiling a number of plans during a Thursday night meeting broadcast live on YouTube and held in person at the district office.
Committees in charge of summer athletics, school redesign, virtual learning, student social emotional support, safety and staff wellness and professional learning each gave a presentation during the nearly four-hour long meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Sue Savaglio-Jarvis said the meeting was just the first step in many that will lead into the fall.
“It is unprecedented times, and I’m a parent myself, and I know exactly what all of you are going through in multiple ways,” she said. “There’s not one person in this room that does not want our students back in school. That was my message from Day 1.
“But we understood that what we had to do was a directive from our state to close down our schools on March 16. ... It does take a team, and I’m very proud of this team. There’s been many ongoing sleepless nights in creating plans and what to do.”
Finding the right combination of how to resume is the task at hand, Savaglio-Jarvis said.
“We know that the continuity of learning occurs when a teacher is in front of our students,” she said. “We also know there are students who do very well online. We also know we have to have options for children with special needs and for children who do thrive in front of a teacher.
“This group has dove deep into all these scenarios and really thought hard.”
The impetus behind the meeting was to gather more information and feedback so changes can be made from here.
Savaglio-Jarvis said the next goal is to return to the School Board again next month with more updates and an eye on eventually putting a concrete plan together.
Options on the table
The school design and virtual learning teams presented four possibilities for the fall: a full return to in-person learning, a hybrid between virtual and in-person, full virtual learning and school closure due to a positive COVID-19 case.
“We prefer to reopen schools and have all our kids back and in-person,” said Sue Valeri, KUSD chief of school leadership. “But we didn’t know if that was possible for this coming year. There is going to be new guidance coming out Monday from the state of Wisconsin and from our state health department.
“With that guidance, we’ll make even more decisions and do more reading and research.”
The plan, Valeri said, is to allow families to decide what best fits their needs through a survey that will identify how many wish to be back in the building, how many would like a combination and how many would be interested strictly in a virtual setting.
How a full in-person return would look was broken down into several components, Washington Middle School Principal Shane Gayle said.
To prepare for that scenario, the committee looked at school attendance; enhanced cleaning of the buildings; technical support, which will need to be increased; health needs; communication; avoiding large group gatherings; sports/fine arts; how breakfast and lunch are served while maintaining social distancing; how to limit traffic within the building; looking at a new way of doing business; and additional training for teachers and staff.
“We do know it’s a big task in front of us, but we are hopeful,” Gayle said. “We are educated. We have a little bit more time than we had in March. We’re not doing this alone. A lot of schools are in this same boat, a lot of states are in this same boat.
“We’re watching some of these things, whether it’s overseas or other states that start earlier than us. Some of them will lead us down a pathway based on their recommendations.”
Marty Pitts, KUSD regional coordinator of leadership and learning at the elementary level, led the group tasked with developing the hybrid system between virtual and in-person learning.
The goal, Pitts said, is to have a communication sent out to families by the end of this month so they could select the option they wish to pursue. The tentative timeline would be to design classes and assign staff the last two weeks of July.
One certainty, Pitts said, is following a split schedule — students shifting weekly between in-person and virtual — would be nearly impossible just from a logistical standpoint for the teachers.
“An A/B schedule would require our teachers from an individual standpoint to be prepared on the first day of school to plan for a vigorous in-person program, while also planning and delivering a vigorous virtual component,” Pitts said. “That would be an immense thing to do. I would guess that, perhaps 20% of our teachers would really be ready to do that with a high degree of success.”
A better plan, Pitts said, is to offer both an in-school and virtual option. The initial thought is that families would have to commit to one option for a full semester.
Making a sudden shift one way or the other would be overwhelming, Pitts said; as an example, if 10% want to go from virtual to in-person, that would represent about 2,000 students district-wide.
“If we suddenly had 2,000 kids going back into the classroom with the same distribution of teachers, we might be going from class sizes of 26 to 40,” he said. “We have to have the opportunity to plan enough so when it’s time to reshuffle the deck, we’re prepared to have manageable class sizes, both virtually and in-person.”
To move toward fully virtual learning in the fall, which was put into place after schools closed in March, a number of considerations would have to be made.
Tony Casper, Kenosha eSchool principal, said all staff and students would need to have access to district devices, must be able to internet access, and also the district would have to purchase about 2,000 “hot spots” at a cost between $378,000 and $480,000.
The eSchool-learning piece also may need to be split into segments, perhaps just a few days if the need arises, or it could be longer if there’s a sudden spike in positive COVID-19 cases within the district, said Brian Geiger, regional coordinator of leadership and learning at the secondary level.
If a small group of students, around 2%, chose the eSchool option, both Geiger and Casper agreed that could be feasible for the long term. Students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade would need to commit to one quarter in the eSchool, while high schoolers would have to commit to a full semester.
But if the eSchool would be asked to absorb the projected full enrollment of more than 20,000 KUSD students, the projected cost just for curriculum alone would be $18.3 million, Casper said, which doesn’t include staffing, training or additional hiring.
“That’s a huge number,” Casper said. “We don’t anticipate we’re going to take in 20,000 kids. We don’t have the ability to do that. Getting those numbers of how many will be willing to commit to (eSchool) will be essential in where we go with either a virtual or an eSchool model.”
If 10% of the students chose eSchool, the rough estimated cost for curriculum would be $1.8 million, and if 15% went that route, it would be $2.759 million, Casper said.
The eSchool model does not have a curriculum specifically for elementary-aged children, Casper said, so that would require a “tremendous” amount of parent involvement.
“It is more akin to homeschooling,” Casper said.
Dealing with a closure
The committee also put together a plan in the event schools are closed again because of another increase in positive cases.
Valeri said the district has invested in providing Chromebooks for every student, and the expectation would be that those would go home each night with the student.
The district will partner with the Kenosha County Division of Health to make any decisions regarding a closure, she said.
“The biggest thing is the health department will help Kenosha Unified make the decision on how long we close and what we close,” Valeri said.
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