By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photograph by Pixabay courtesy of pexels.com
The Madison Metropolitan School District announced on July 17 the decision to conduct an all-virtual start to the school year, with allowances for some students with disabilities who will receive some in-person, face-to-face learning.
Currently Dane County is in Phase II of its reopening plan, which does allow schools to offer in-person learning, but the district is erring on the safe side, considering the recent rise in coronavirus cases.
“Today as local cases continue to surge, and the ongoing analysis of public health data to provide guidance on how to implement requirements [that are expected by] schools to have in place to open safely, has left us with limited options,” says interim superintendent Jane Belmore. “The safety of everyone who enters our school buildings each day is my ultimate responsibility — there can be no margin of error in our decisions to keep students safe, as well as our community safe.”
Prior to this announcement, the district was also discussing and sketching out plans for in-person teaching and a hybrid of in-person and virtual. It’s currently unknown how long the district will maintain the all-virtual learning plan.
The official first day of school has not yet been determined Belmore said during the press conference, but school should begin no later than Monday, Sept. 8.
Many details are still a bit foggy, district officials said, but here’s what we know so far:
Aspects of Virtual Learning That Went Well
Assistant superintendent for teaching and learning Lisa Kvistad said in reviewing surveys from staff, students and parents, that teacher office hours were very helpful and will continue to be offered in the fall.
District staff were also told that it was helpful when the learning expectations and classroom schedule were laid out the week before. The plan going forward is for teachers to communicate the expectations and class schedule to parents and students.
It was also made clear that live virtual instruction is an important part of the class experience. Kvistad said teachers will have live virtual learning sessions, and students’ day-to-day learning experience will be outlined in more detail.
Grades and Attendance
The traditional grading scale for elementary, middle and high school students will resume in the fall, and attendance will be taken regularly — most likely on a daily basis, said Kvistad.
Accommodations for Students with Special Needs
In August, district staff are reviewing the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for all students who have one and will determine the specific needs of each of those students, and whether they’ll need in-person learning. John Harper, director of student services, said they’re expecting a small number of students from each school will need to receive in-person learning, which will likely take place at their regular school.
Available Technology and At-Home Internet Access
All families who have requested additional technology support at home, including laptops or mobile hotspots, have received them. The district so far has distributed 11,000 devices to support virtual learning. Any families in need of technology or internet access support should contact the district.
Sports and Extracurricular Activities
Much is still unknown about the state of sports and extracurricular activities for the 2020-21 school year. Chief of schools for secondary education Michael Hernandez said he understands how important these activities are for many students in regard to their school experience. There have been discussions about having virtual interactions with student athletes, but the district has yet to make a decision on how extracurricular activities will continue.
Meals for Students in Need
In a press release, the district noted it has provided 225,000 meals to families so far, and it will continue to provide free meals at its current distribution locations.
Because staff and students haven’t been buying meals since the district closed in March, the food services department is facing a $1.5 to $3 million gap in revenue. Mike Hertting, interim chief of staff and interim assistant superintendent for staff and operations, said the district budget does have some flexibility to account for this gap in revenue, but it is “concerning.”
Belmore said, “We’re still hoping the federal government will do the right thing and provide the resources and support that we need to move forward in the 2020-21 school year. Those resources at that level are still pretty unknown at this point.”
Chief of human resources Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff said there are some known and unknown budget challenges. As of now, it has not been determined whether the district will have staff layoffs or not.
Support for Parents
No specifics were laid out at the press conference, but Belmore said the district will continue working with community partners to increase childcare support. The district will continue to offer — and expand — its virtual playground, which is essentially a resource website for parents that helps support their child in the virtual learning process, and includes information about COVID and learning activities.
Other News: SROs and a New Superintendent
Last month the MMSD school board voted unanimously to end the district’s contract with the Madison Police Department. Four student resource offers were present in the district’s four high schools with the total contract estimated at $380,000 for 2021. A sub-committee of students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders is being created to review and strategize a new plan for security and safety.
The district also announced the hiring of its new superintendent. University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and former district employee Carlton D. Jenkins will officially begin his position on Aug. 4. Jenkins returns to Madison from Minnesota, where he was serving as a superintendent.
Jane Belmore has been serving as interim superintendent while the district was conducting the search.