The abrupt end to the in-person portion of the school year for 2019-20 left so many of us blindsided and heartbroken. Many of the milestones and fun parts of the end of the school year were missed or looked very different from a typical year for students. Kids and teachers often didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye to one another and we were all left wondering when schools would reopen.
Now we’re feeling anxious about what teaching and learning will be like in our schools in the fall across the Fox Cities. More districts will begin to release their plans for reopening schools that will answer many questions, but in the meantime, there are just so many unknowns for many of us.
Dancing around our heads here at GVK are questions like:
Will there be a public school option for virtual learning? Will kids be required to wear a face mask? Will teachers? What measures will be taken to help slow the spread of COVID-19? What happens if someone in a school gets sick? What about mental health? We have heard similar questions and vocalized worry from our readers.
We, like all parents, had so many questions before and after the guidelines were released by the state in June. We’ve taken some time to review the bulky document, Centers for Disease Control information for schools, and now a couple of districts have released their individual plans with many more expected in the next couple weeks. We weeded through the information to find what applies to parents and students, taking into account the questions that we have seen from Go Valley Kids readers and those that we as parents have been wondering about.
We also want to take a minute to give a shoutout to all of the amazing teachers, school leadership and learning staff in our communities.
State Guidelines from Wisconsin DPI
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction published Education Forward in June to help districts guide reopening for the 2020-2021 school year during the COVID-19 pandemic to help promote safety, disease control, and prevention.
The state worked with leaders in education and public health to create a framework that can be customized to meet the unique needs of individual school districts. The goals are:
- Keeping students and staff safe
- Caring for the mental health needs of students and staff
- Keeping the education provided uniform through different learning environments
- Meet the needs of ALL students and families
- Create flexibility for schedules, learning environments, and protocols.
When putting together the guidelines, they assumed that the virus will be active this school year and that short-term closures may be necessary until a vaccine is widely available and used. The Wisconsin DPI will use CARES Act funding to help districts to make changes to curriculum, procedures, and other areas that will need to be adapted for safe learning during the pandemic.
Full back to school, hybrid, virtual learning at home were considered to develop guidelines for learning environments. Here’s a breakdown of each situation:
The majority of students attend in person with students with health concerns participating virtually on an as-needed basis.
Building a welcoming, safe, and supportive community for students and teachers. Expect changes in assessments and curriculum to foster this including changes to the physical learning environment to allow students and staff adequate space.
The plan will also include preparing staff, families, and students to potentially move to virtual learning if there is an outbreak.
Physically Distanced Learning – Hybrid
This option supports physical distancing environments both in-person and virtually utilizing classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, homes, and community-based organizations. Students would be placed into cohorts and their time divided between in-person and virtual learning as a group with considerations for building the cohorts with consideration from staff and students and families.
Finding strategies to maintain continuity between virtual and in-person learning.
Scheduling Examples for Hybrid Approaches:
- Four-Day Week
- Two-Day Rotation
- A/B Week Rotation
- Elementary Face-to-face and Secondary Virtual Learning
Building relationships between students and families remotely and accommodating families that are not comfortable with in-personal learning is the primary goal for the virtual school options offered for the 2020 school year.
Do not expect at home learning to look like the distance learning response in March. Schools and teachers had to adapt to a new style of learning with only days to plan. Educators will use the experience to inform their approach for the fall and minimize the difficulties for students and families.
Families can expect more clarity and cohesion when virtual learning plans are being developed by individual districts in advance of the start of the school year. There will also be more support for technology needs.
General Precautions Recommended
- Staff and students that are in higher-risk categories should be identified and accommodated for distance learning throughout the pandemic.
- Individual classrooms should have routines in place for hand hygiene, cleaning of desks and equipment, desks should all face the same direction to reduce transmission.
- Classes may be modified so a class will have specials, such as art, in their rooms rather than traveling to another classroom. Physical education and music classes are encouraged to be held outdoors when possible.
- Staff and students showing symptoms of COVID-19 or having been in contact with someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 within the previous 14 days should not be in school. Ill students and staff need to be home until they’ve met the criteria to end home isolation. Districts will have systems in place for self-reporting of symptoms and notification of exposure. Expect to be required to provide documentation of an okay to return to school
- Districts are expected to create policies and communication systems for family and staff including setting attendance policies that support students and staff to remain at home when ill. Expect guidance about what symptoms will require you to keep your child home.
- Districts should set their guidelines for meals on campus, face-covering requirements, availability of hand hygiene, restroom use, cleaning, steps to minimize crowding, and consideration of ensuring adequate supplies that minimize the sharing of materials.
- Schools should ensure that ventilation systems are operating and increased circulation of outdoor air as much as possible through opening windows and doors that do not pose a safety risk and the use of fans.
- Daily health checks of staff and students are encouraged with consideration for confidentiality regulations and laws.
- Expect that there will be limitations on visitors and volunteers. Visitors and volunteers should expect to wear a face-covering while in school buildings, maintain physical distancing, and restrict their movement to only necessary areas. IEP and 504 meetings will occur virtually.
- Districts will have resources and plans in place with respect to the mental and emotional health of students and staff. Educators will discuss current events with facts and honesty while affirming the concerns and fears of students and are provided resources for trauma-informed social and emotional learning for all students, including those attending school virtually.
- Consideration for special education support for families across all learning environments is taken into account.
Questions Parents Are Asking
School supply lists?
- We can expect similar school supply lists as typical year for in person learning options, but you may want to consider extras. Unfortunately most sharing will be discouraged. Also add face masks to your shopping lists, cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer.
Can we carpool?
- It is likely that you will be asked to stay in your vehicle during drop-off and pick-up and students will have assigned entrances and walking traffic patterns.
Will there be bussing?
- Bussing procedures and availability will vary by district. Expect for arrival and departure times to be staggered, for drivers to be wearing a mask and/or be behind a plexiglass barrier. Kids are likely to be required to be spaced out while riding the bus.
Will my children be required to go to school?
- Families will be required to enroll children in a physical or virtual school environment or elect to file the form necessary to legally homeschool their children.
- You can expect that your school will have attendance policies in place that will take into account the 14+ days needed to be symptom-free before returning to school.
Will children be required to wear masks?
- This will also vary by the district as policies are set. You can expect that children will be at minimum educated about mask usage and encouraged to wear a face covering.
- Teachers and other school staff will likely be wearing masks.
What will lunches look like?
- Expect grab and go options for lunches and no salad bars or buffets. Single-use trays might be used.
- It is likely that there will be assigned seats and only one grade level at lunch at one time.
Will there be recess?
- Recess will most likely be in place. There will probably be social distancing guidelines in place for children such as only one grade level being outside at a time, no contact activities encouraged.
- Indoor recess, when necessary, will likely take place in individual classrooms.
Will supplies need to be shared?
- There will be very minimal sharing of supplies per the guidance from the DPI. Expect to be asked to label all individual supplies.
Will there be field trips?
- Virtual field trips and special speakers via video will be the norm.
Will there be sports?
- This is another one likely to vary by district. Sports with higher person to person contact may not be offered. Games may be held without spectators.
- Out of school activities like YMCA aftercare, KidsStage, and Girls on the Run are allowed with adherence to the guidelines in place at the district and school.
What if someone at school gets sick with COVID-19?
- Schools are advised to set up an isolation area for students that have symptoms that present during the school day that is separate from the area that injuries, etc are managed.
- Contact tracing is being facilitated through assigned seating in classroom and lunchroom environments and in many places, keeping kids separated by grade level for lunch and recess.
- Schools are expected to have plans in place to offer distance learning opportunities for students that require to be quarantined for exposure or for those that are recovering from illness.
- CDC Guidelines for ending isolation will likely be used by districts for allowing students or staff safely back to school after illness or exposure.
Tips From a Teacher Getting Ready for the 2020-2021 School Year
- If a teacher asks that children wear masks or face-covering in their classroom, respect their wishes, and work to help your children to get used to wearing a mask. Send them with a backup just in case something happens to the mask they leave the house in.
- Outside classes are encouraged when possible, so apply sunscreen in the morning, or have sunscreen wipes with your child’s school supplies.
- Consider shoes and clothing that don’t require help for younger children. Velcro, slip-on, etc will help to limit close contact. Elastic waistbands are easier than zippers, buttons, etc.
- For kids with long hair, style their hair off of their face to help limit face touching. Avoid using barrettes and headbands if they might be tempted to adjust them throughout the day.
- The sharing of supplies is not encouraged. Be sure to have supplies labeled and provide backups.
- Send your kids to school with at least one refillable water bottle. Schools are not likely to have water fountains/bubblers on as school restarts.
- Buy in! Whatever your school’s plan is and however your child will attend school this year, present a positive view for them.
- None of this is going to be easy for any of us: teachers, students, and parents alike. There are no perfect solutions to navigating this and everyone has worked to create the safest environment than we can for staff and students. We’re all going to need to approach the year with flexibility, empathy, and kindness the best that we can. Teachers want everyone to have a safe and happy year despite the unusual circumstances. As always, our children are watching and taking their cues from us.
Options for 2020-2021 School Year Outside of Individual District and DPI Plans
100% Virtual School for the 2020 School Year
Fox Valley Based
Wisconsin Virtual Charter Schools: There are many options throughout the state of Wisconsin for virtual learning. Keep in mind that there may be a maximum number of student thresholds for a district’s virtual charter school, so not all options will be available as summer and fall progress.
Open enrollment for virtual programs outside of your home school district has passed, but there is an Alternative Application Procedure. The state-based online options are accepting Open Enrollment Alternative Applications now.
Find a list from Best College Reviews of the 25 best private online high schools: bestcollegereviews.org/top/online-high-schools/
Wisconsin Parents Association does a great job of breaking down everything you need to know and providing answers to the common questions that families have when starting to homeschool.
Wisconsin defines a home-based private education program as:
“‘Home-based private educational program’ means a program of educational instruction provided to a child by the child’s parent or guardian or by a person designated by the parent or guardian. An instructional program provided to more than one family unit does not constitute a home-based private educational program.” (WI stat 115.001(3g))
To be lawfully homeschooling in Wisconsin, a PI-1206 form must be completed between the third Friday in September and October 15. When you fill the form you are agreeing to provide 875 hours of instruction throughout the school year with a sequentially progressive curriculum. Although no record keeping is required by law in Wisconsin, a copy of this form is required to be kept on file.
FAQ from Wisconsin Parent Association about COVID-19 prompted homeschooling questions.
You are able to hire a teacher or tutor or have a designated family member to cover homeschool teaching for the students in your family per Wisconsin law. You are able to oversee assigned work from another designated homeschool teacher, but not provide instruction to mixed family groups of students.
Fox Valley Schools Reopening Plans by School District
This section will be updated when new information is available
Appleton Area School District
15 Elementary Schools, 4 Middle Schools, 3 High Schools
14 Charter Schools (grade levels offered vary), 1 Magnet School
6th largest school district in Wisconsin
- District Response Plan – Fully Virtual Model
Oshkosh Area School District
14 Elementary Schools, 2 Charters, 5 Middle Schools, 2 High School
- District Response Plan – Model 3: Hybrid Learning
Neenah Joint School District
10 Elementary Schools, 1 Charter, 2 Middle Schools, 1 High School
Menasha Joint School District
5 Elementary Schools, 1 Middle School, 1 High School
Kimberly Area School District
4 Elementary Schools, 3 Middle Schools, 1 Intermediate, 1 High School
Hortonville Area School District (Greenville)
3 Elementary Schools, 3 Middle Schools, 1 High School
Kaukauna Area School District
2 Elementary Schools, 2 Charters, 1 Middle School, 1 High School
Little Chute Area School District
1 Elementary School, 1 Middle School, 1 High School
Winneconne Community School District
1 Elementary School, 1 Middle School, 1 High School