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By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and students in the Elk Mound school district will have three options from which to choose to start the 2020-2021 school year.
Eric Wright, district administrator, said he had sent a letter to parents July 22 outlining the options.
The options include in-person instruction five days per week, a virtual option with a “non-Elk Mound” teacher; and “live” virtual option with an Elk Mound instructor.
The virtual option with a non-Elk Mound teacher will be offered through the Wisconsin Virtual School, and all classes will be taught by an instructor from outside of the Elk Mound school district who is a Wisconsin certified teacher, Wright said.
The virtual option with Elk Mound teachers will allow students to watch the classes, live, at home, on their Chromebooks, at the same time the students in the classroom are being taught, he said.
The details of the options will evolve right up until the first day of school, depending upon whether the school district will need to pivot or adjust based on recommendations from the local health department or the state, Wright said.
The Elk Mound school district sent out a survey to parents, and 502 responses were received, Wright said.
The first question asked if the schools were open five days per week for in-person instruction, would parents send their children to school?
The results showed that 71 percent of parents said they would send their children to school; 27 percent said they were concerned and undecided, and 1.6 percent said they would not send their children to school and would choose a virtual option, Wright said.
For four-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade, parents were asked if they would have their children participate in virtual school, with an Elk Mound staff person teaching the class live, with the children watching on Chromebooks from home.
The responses from parents were 38 percent said they would find that option acceptable; 52 percent said they were not interested; and 40 percent said “maybe,” but they needed more information.
For grades six through 12, parents were asked if they would consider enrolling their students in a 100 percent online curriculum with a non-Elk Mound teacher.
The responses from parents were 6 percent “yes”; 58 percent “no”; and 37 percent “maybe,” but they needed more information.
When asked what the school district should do to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, 77 percent said additional hand sanitizing stations should be installed throughout the building and 61 percent said visitors should be limited within the school buildings.
All together, 56 percent said they were in favor of building safety measures and putting procedures in place such as routine temperature checks, and 53 percent said social distancing should be followed, to the best of the school district’s ability.
Of the parents who responded to the survey, 38 percent said the district should make Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to staff and students, and 36 percent said the staff should wear masks, while 30 percent said the students should wear masks.
A little more than one quarter — 26 percent — said they would feel safe with no additional safety precautions in place.
Transporting students to school will be one of the more difficult aspects of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright said.
The current recommendation is that without masks, only six children should be transported on a bus, but if students wear masks, the buses could transport 26 students, he said.
Based on past ridership, that would not be viable for the Elk Mound school district, Wright said.
In response to a question about whether parents would put their children on a school bus, 44 percent said they would allow their students to ride the bus, while 33 percent said they would provide transportation to school, 18 percent were undecided, and 4 percent said they would no longer use school transportation.
A few of the respondents said they would not send their kids to school.
The surveys generated 20 pages of comments and concerns, and five themes emerged from the comments, Wright said.
One theme revolved around mental health and socialization and that parents believe it is important for their students to attend school so they can socialize with other people, he said.
Another theme is that the virtual learning experience at the end of the 2019-2020 school year was “not ideal,” Wright said.
School districts received only a few days’ notice that schools would be closed statewide, leaving very little time for the teachers, the parents or the students to prepare for virtual learning.
Another theme is that parents are concerned about protecting both the students and the staff, Wright said.
Parents also are concerned about academic loss over-all, he said.
The last theme that emerged from the comments is parents would prefer it if their students do not have to wear a mask all the time at school, Wright said.
If the virus is transmitted to staff, the school district may have to shut down, Wright said.
Although masks have been demonstrated to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, there are many considerations about masks, and no decision has been made yet, he said.
The school district will attempt to do social distancing as much as possible wherever possible, Wright said.
For example, implementing social distancing may involve purchasing extra tables for the lunchrooms, and it may involve dividing the playground up into quadrants and assigning certain grades to certain quadrants, he said.
Perhaps masks will be appropriate in those situations where the students and staff cannot maintain social distancing, Wright said.
As for the “live” virtual option, the school district has already ordered the equipment, but all school districts are ordering technology items, and there are back orders on certain materials, he said.
The Elk Mound School Board is planning to hold a special meeting on August 6 to finalize the plans for starting school, and the decision about masks is expected to be made at the special meeting.
“There are lots of questions and not many answers,” Wright said.
The staff in the Elk Mound school district has been meeting to figure out the best ways to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19, he said.
In other business, the Elk Mound Board of Education:
• Approved ending the $50 subsidy provided by the Elk Mound school district for students enrolled in driver’s education. Those who were enrolled in driver’s education this summer received the $50, but after this, the entire cost of the course will be the student’s responsibility. The school district will still provide on-site driver’s instruction, if possible. There were no changes to season passes, athletic fees, lunch program charges for meals and milk and no changes to course fees.
• Approved the annual declaration and parent notice of the district’s student academic standards that will be in effect for the 2020-21 school year, pursuant to second 120.12(13) and section 118.30(1g)(a)1 of the state statutes. The standards are posted on the school district’s website.
• Approved the 2020-2021 extracurricular, teacher, support staff and student handbooks. There may still have to be some adjustments made because of COVID-19, Wright said.
• Accepted the resignation of Lynda Lacina, school psychologist.
• Approved the school safety plan. State law requires the plan to be reviewed every three years, but the Elk Mound school board has chosen to review the plan every year, Wright said.
• Learned that bidding on the roof projects included in the referendum question could begin in August. Typically, school districts want the construction on referendum projects to be completed between the end of May and the first part of September, Wright noted. Giving flexibility to contractors on when they can schedule parts of the project could result in cost savings for the school district, because the contractors will have to ability to schedule the work during “down” times when they typically would have less work on the schedule, he said.
During a closed session, the Elk Mound Board of Education:
• Learned there was not yet a candidate for consideration for the position of a high school special education teacher.
• Approved the teacher compensation guide for 2020-2021. No adjustments were made to salaries or benefits.