By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher committees in the Colfax school district are working on how to teach blended, hybrid classes simultaneously for students in the classroom and for students who are at home.
The goal will be for teachers to figure out how to efficiently teach students in the classroom and students at home at the same time, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, at the Colfax Board of Education’s July 13 meeting.
Cameras set up in the classrooms will broadcast the teachers live for those students who are working from home, and at the same time, the lessons will be recorded so students can access them later, he said.
CESA No. 11 will be making a bulk purchase of cameras so they will be more economical for the schools in the CESA, and the school districts can collaborate on how best to use the cameras, Yingst said.
Another goal is to make the instruction user-friendly and to deliver the curriculum in a variety of ways so all students have access, he said.
The teachers in Colfax will be teaching from the classroom, even if the school district is closed down, Yingst said.
At this point, with COVID-19 cases surging in the state, no one knows when — or if — school districts will have to shut down again. Schools in Wisconsin have been closed since mid-March.
The school district will be providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the teachers such as masks and clear face shields. The masks for the speech and language teachers will have clear spaces over the mouth so the students can see them speaking. Plexiglass shields have been installed in all of the offices, too, Yingst said.
The school district also is working to find additional ways to disinfect and sanitize surfaces. The teachers will focus on teaching, and the administrators, custodial staff and everyone else will do the disinfecting, he said.
As for guidance from the state and federal government, Yingst said school districts are hearing “local control” and “do it yourself” and “figure it out yourself.”
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
“We were waiting for guidance. We were hoping for guidance from the state, and they said, ‘it’s your call,’” Yingst said.
Over the past few weeks, Governor Tony Evers has given several news briefings for reporters, and when asked if he planned to issue a statewide mask mandate or another emergency declaration or if he planned to shut down schools again when coronavirus infections reach a certain level, the governor said he was not planning to do any of that.
Since the Republican-controlled Legislature succeeded in getting the state Supreme Court to overturn the Safer at Home order from the state Department of Health Services, it is not clear whether the governor and his administration have any authority to take those actions, and if the orders were issued, the Republicans would likely take them to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court would likely overturn them, Governor Evers said.
Another difficulty in planning for opening school in the fall is that the Dunn-St. Croix Conference covers five counties, which means the school districts are dealing with different guidelines and orders from five different county health departments, Yingst said.
The different counties have different recommendations on appropriate numbers of people to gather indoors and outdoors, he noted.
A plan that is consistent throughout the conference would be helpful, said Ken Bjork, school board member.
Guidance from the state would be particularly helpful considering the area covered by the different conferences, Yingst said.
By the middle of August, people with students in school are going to want to know their options, Bjork said.
Yingst said he also does not want to lose enrollment because of the school district’s response to COVID-19.
An NBC news report interviewed five doctors and pediatricians from around the country who said they felt it was safe to send kids back to school. A survey sent out to parents shows that many parents want to send their children back to school, he said.
Parents have been homeschooling their children since March, when the schools were shut down statewide, and they may have developed an appreciation for what the school offers, Bjork said.
People also want some “normalcy” for their kids, Yingst said.
When the teachers review the cameras and start figuring out how to use them, they should do so wearing their PPE so they can tell what the camera is picking up, suggested Jaclyn Ackerlund, school board member.
Some students might find it hard to understand if they cannot see their teacher’s face, she said.
The masks will have a Viking on them, and the school nurse, Terri Ruff, has been making recommendations for masks, Yingst said.
As for busing, if the school district implements social distancing on the school buses, each bus will be able to transport about eight students, he said.
Students will have to wear a mask to ride the bus since it is impossible to social distance on the bus, Yingst said.
On the surveys, some parents indicated they would drive their children to school, he said.
The school district may need to hire extra help to complete all of the disinfecting and sanitizing, Bjork said.
There will be cleaning, deep cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. The custodial staff has already been spending quite a lot of time daily on disinfecting, Yingst said.
Another consideration will be not to allow outside groups to use the school because that will mean extra sanitizing, he said.
If everything is sanitized, and an outside group comes in to use the school, the custodians will have to start over on sanitizing, Yingst said.
“We can’t do that over and over, two or three times every night,” he said.
Bjork said he hoped the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and any other outside groups would be understanding about not using the school now during the pandemic.
Yingst said people have been asking him, “How do you play a game? How do you have a concert?”
The answer is— “I don’t know,” he said.
The Colfax school district also has contracted with a company to do ozone treatments of the buildings and the school vehicles.
The ozone treatments are said to kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces for 90 days.
“As we go”
“We are writing the book as we go,” Yingst said.
There are so many different aspects to consider, such as how many students can be put in a classroom, he said.
The recommendation Yingst said he has been hearing recently is to have students three feet apart if they are wearing masks and six feet apart if they are not wearing masks.
The students also are not to face each other when they are sitting at desks, and the desks should be separated, not grouped together in fours, for example, and the desks should all be facing in the same direction, Yingst said.
And what if someone is exposed to COVID-19? What if they are exposed in a classroom? Or exposed on a bus? All situations will be different, he said.
“There is no black and white answer to any of this,” Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education is planning a special meeting in early August to discuss the plan for opening school.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education approved updated athletic fees for the 2020-2021 school year.
Baseball socks will increase by $1 from $4 to $5.
Boys basketball and girls basketball shorts will increase by $2 from $15 to $17.
Boys and girls cross country shorts will increase by $5 from $13 to $18.
A golf polo will increase by $4 from $26 to $30.
Softball sweatshirts and caps will be removed from the list, and socks will increase by $1 to $5.
Boys and girls track jerseys and shorts will be removed from the list.
Volleyball spandex shorts will increase by $1 from $25 to $26.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Received a notice for the annual district meeting on August 17 at 6 p.m. The annual meeting will be held prior to the regular school board meeting.
• Learned there will be no change for the Wisconsin Retirement System rates for 2021. The employee and the employer contribution will both remain at 6.75 percent.
• Accepted the resignation of Adam Davison, high school history teacher and wrestling coach for the Colfax-Bloomer wrestling cooperative. Davison plans to accept a position in Stratford as a teacher and as head wrestling coach, Yingst said.
• Approved hiring Joseph Beranek as the high school history teacher. The position was posted the week before the school board meeting, and Yingst said he was “shocked” to receive 24 applications and pleased to have such a large pool of qualified candidates. Beranek taught in Bruce last year. He also has a degree in special education, and he is willing to coach. “I think he will be a good fit here in Colfax,” Yingst said.
• Approved the following fall coaching staff: High school football — head coach, Matt DeMoe, and assistant coaches Chad Evenson and Gideon St. Aubin; high school volleyball — Pam Meredith (head coach), Linda Bilodeau (junior varsity coach), and Lori Buchanan (freshmen coach); high school cross country — Joe Doucette (head coach), Chuck Brown (assistant coach); middle school football — coaches Michael Hodel and Joel Steinke; middle school volleyball — Coach Keri Sedivy; middle school cross country — Coach Courtney Sarauer.
• Approved the school district’s academic standards that will be in effect for the 2020-2021 school year, pursuant to section 120.12(13) and section 118.30(1g)(a)1 of the Wisconsin state statutes. The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the Common Core State Standards are posted on the school district’s website.
• Approved “The Standard” as the long-term and short-term disability insurance carrier for the 2020-2021 school year. The school district pays the long-term disability premium of $10 to $15 per month for the employees, for a total of $1,100. Employees pay the short-term disability premiums themselves, if they so choose.