Board hears more about fall plans

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Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra the other members of the planning team for fall scenarios provided an update on the work done so far and the timeline going forward at the Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, June 22.

Board president Annette Ashley presided over the meeting at the District Services Center, while other Board members participated remotely. The School Board has held six virtual meetings since mid-March.

Members of the team include Cyra, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Lori Ames, Director of Secondary Education Laura Love, Director of Elementary Education Rainey Briggs, Director of Student Services Barb Buffington, Director of Technology Services Jim Blodgett and Health Services Coordinator Danielle Krbecek.
 
Cyra noted the work is complex and there are many competing factors. The team plans to study the 87-page Education Forward plan released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Monday as the District's current plans were developed before the guidance document was released.    

Cyra then reviewed the Fall Scenario Planning Profile, which includes a timeline and a summary of the planning process. She noted regardless of what model is selected for the start of the school year the same process will be used should there be a need to change models due to a second wave or other factors related to the virus. Cyra also pointed out DPI noted schools should plan for change throughout the next school year and be prepared to shift as information and conditions change.

Cyra also reviewed the Fall Scenario Planning Template, which doesn't provide all of the details but is a guiding document for how the District will navigate the process. MCPASD will work to provide as much of an instructional program as possible, but she added choices may have to be made about priorities. She said any in-person options that include face-to-face instruction may also need some virtual learning component, in part ot provide time for deep cleaning of buildings and equipment and to allow staff to plan.  
 
She noted all of the potential models the District is considering include four days of teacher instruction and one day where students still learn and do work but planning is done in advance.

Cyra said the District is looking at virtual, blended and face-to-face options and determining what are the questions that need to be addressed. She noted the family survey that went out on Monday asked about preferences regarding each model. But while instruction may look similar no matter what model is selected, she pointed out the the health services and operations plans will look significantly different.    
The District anticipates offering virtual learning to any family that requests that option and Cyra said she expects the number of students who be 100 percent online to increase due to the pandemic. She added a second survey of families will be available in August to solidify numbers.    

Cyra also briefly reviewed the scenario matrix to evaluate each option. She noted options will be evaluated based on survey results, information from health experts and the research of the work groups. The matrix will help determine which model is recommended to the School Board on July 20, she added.   

Krbecek noted her team's focus is staying on top of all pandemic guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Public Health Madison & Dane County. She noted she is part of about 10 calls each week reviewing the latest information, which she takes back to her team to try and implement as best as possible.  

She noted Dane County districts are following PHMDC, but their guidance has been coming out more slowly. She expects PHMDC to offer guidance and regulations soon now that DPI has released its plan. She also reminded the Board because each county offers its own guidance that can add more challenges.  

Briggs and Love reminded the Board no one has gone through this before and that the District is utilizing people differently than it has previously. One goal has been to involve a lot of people in process, Briggs said.

"We want to get it right but we know we will need to tweak whatever we decide to do,'' he said.

Love noted some of the team members are also participating in collaborative meetings every Tuesday with directors around Dane County. The instructional planning team is reading a lot articles and researching every option being considered and will look at the qualitative results from a recent staff survey as well.

Love  noted one big difference between the model implemented in the spring and those being considered for the fall is the District now has experience with virtual learning and time to plan.  

Ames cautioned that operations faces challenges going forward that didn't exist in the spring, such as transportation, how to handle bathrooms, and how to socially distance during lunch periods. She noted there will be financial ramifications depending on which model is selected, while also making sure plans put in place are appropriate. Ames added new questions pop up every time her team meets.

In the short term, Ames' team is working on cleaning protocols and what to do for staff who have health concerns. The team will also be developing rules for personal protective equipment and trying to decide if materials such as plexiglas, thermometers and face masks are needed. Staggering shifts and establishing protocols for break rooms, restrooms and other facilities are also being considered. 

"There are a considerable amount of decisions and protocols that need to be put in place,'' she said.

Blodgett noted the District is working to make sure every student who needs a device has one in the fall if virtual learning continues. He also continues to work with local internet providers to make sure access isn't an issue. He said the Education Foundation has expressed interest in funding devices or programs that would provide internet during the school year to families who dont have it due to cost.

Bob Hesselbein expressed his gratitude for the work done so far and awe over the the complex options being considered. Members asked if staff and students will need time to be ready for whatever model is selected. Cyra noted, July 20 seems early to make a decision, but the District also needs time after that to get ready for school starting on Sept. 1.

Anne Bauer asked if the District has identified which staff don't believe they can be in buildings. Ames said that hasn't happened yet, although she pointed out many of MCPASD's bus drivers are older and in a group at higher risk fo the virus. She also said the District is considering using staff with health concerns to teach virtual learning, especially if more families select that option.

"This is an incredible amount of important work that has been done. It really is awe-inspiring,'' Todd Smith said.