By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photo by Pixabay via Pexels
As the 2019-20 school year comes to a close, the Madison Metropolitan School District is setting its sights on what learning could look like in the fall.
During a press conference on Wednesday, May 27, district staff shared broad strokes of what students, parents, teachers and other district staff might experience during the next school year, in the wake of the coronavirus.
Currently, this entails a big question mark. Guidelines and restrictions are changing often, and the district is just starting to formulate flexible plans for the early part of the 2020-21 school year
District staff are keeping a close eye on guidelines set in place by Dane County, and what’s loosely described in the Forward Dane plan. Forward Dane outlines phases for how schools — as well as care facilities and businesses — can reopen. Currently, the county is in phase one, and in-person instruction can’t take place until we enter into phase two.
However, phase two still presents some challenges for the district, because this phase requires health screenings and does not allow group activities or communal dining, calling into question how the district will handle transportation and providing school meals, among other things.
“We know that there are quite a few things that are going to have to be in place, and we’re restructuring to look at the organizational aspects that need to be in place, as well as the instructional aspects that need to be in place,” says interim Superintendent Jane Belmore. “Keeping in mind our focus on equity, our social and emotional focus for kids and families, and certainly the economic picture of our community that we play a big role in.”
The operation of summer school will help inform some best practices for fall, Belmore says, and will give the district a sense of what will and won’t be feasible.
Executive director of building services Chad Wiese says if students are able to physically attend school in the fall, some adjustments could include:
- Physical distancing.
- Schedule changes (which may include staggered start times).
- Health screenings.
- Face coverings.
- Additional cleaning and disinfecting routines.
“[The county] is recommending six feet of social distance, which could mean a school bus, where you may only have 24 seats, and you’d have a one student per seat or a student every other seat, and that will certainly create challenges as far as transportation,” Wiese says. “And the same is true as I was trying to coordinate how we’re going to serve breakfast in our schools. So we’ve got teams working on all of that in terms of what staffing or even what the meals will look like — if we’re dropping off lunches in every classroom, how you’d clean before and after are all things we’re going to have to take into consideration when we’re putting our plan together.”
If schools are required to continue virtual learning — or a hybrid of virtual and in-classroom learning — district staff are ensuring all students have adequate access to Wi-Fi. District staff have already delivered 400 hotspot devices to students’ homes and made sure all students have laptops. Currently, more than 20,000 district computers are in students’ homes. Staff have decided that students can keep their laptops over the summer (with the exception of graduating seniors) and have even discussed allowing students to keep their assigned devices for several years.
Thankfully, Wiese says, the district was proactive with its technology plan several years ago. For the most part, the district is one-to-one with students and laptops. Any student that needed a laptop for virtual learning, was provided one, he says.
As far as students who may need extra supports, including students who have learning disabilities or aren’t neurotypical, director of student services John Harper says the district is identifying best practices so those students can continue learning effectively.
If some form of virtual learning continues in the fall, the district may identify students who need more one-on-one attention and may prioritize having those students on-site.
As summer unfolds, Belmore says district staff will have a clearer picture of what the next school year could entail, noting that whatever plan they formulate will need to flexible as guidelines change.
The district is regularly updating its website with information about school activities, and has posted recorded press conferences with chapters that allow viewers to skip to the information important to them.
Belmore says she hopes to have more details in the coming weeks.