New Lisbon schools will open this fall for in-person learning five days a week for all students as officials adopt a plan for attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic. A virtual option will be available for parents who do not wish to send their child to the school.
The New Lisbon Board of Education voted 6-1 July 21 in favor of an opening plan for five days per week that shortens the school day by ending at 2:30 p.m., encourages masks but does not make them mandatory, does not institute temperature checks and encourages parents to self-check students.
A motion originally passed 6-1 in favor of opening school five days a week until 2:30 p.m., but was amended to include language about masks, temperature checks and self-checking. Board member Carol Wagenson voted no on both the original and amended motion.
“I think you know no matter what is decided someone will be unhappy,” said New Lisbon Elementary Principal Mark Toelle. “It’s a no-win situation in some ways, it makes it a difficult decision.”
According to District Administrator Adam Englebretson, the district created six different plans to consider for reopening. Three of the plans were hybrid in person and online plans, and three were fully in-person instruction. The plan officials chose shortened the school day by about 45 minutes, part of which will be used for cleaning.
“(The plan) gives teachers a chance to touch base with virtual students, discuss best practices,” Englebretson said.
If a student is not going back to full-time in-person learning, the school is planning to offer a virtual option through a program called Schoology.
Students who attend the district’s classes through the virtual program will still count towards the district’s numbers for funding, while students whose parents decide to home school for the year do not count toward the numbers used for funding.
Englebretson said the Schoology program is the same used in his previous district, Random Lake.
“It offers live instructions, offers assessments… there is an accountability portion, we can monitor usage from the student and school perspective,” Englebretson said. “We had this in place for four years. We liked it because of the accountability.”
Englebretson suggested the district could have some teachers already familiar with the program from Random Lake help with training for New Lisbon teachers. He also said the district will provide computers to students who choose the virtual option.
“For students not attending, this is our ultimate program for them,” Englebretson said.
Safety measures for in-person learning the district is implementing include face shields for staff who want to wear them, additional sanitization stations, including one for each classroom and four for the entrance, and staggered lunch times. All of the lower elementary classrooms are equipped with sinks.
“I ask that teachers be sure to always let someone know if something isn’t going right,” said board vice president Nancy Cowan. “Issues with safety, cleanliness, automatically go and let someone know.”
The school is making arrangements for an isolation room in the elementary computer lab if a student has COVID-19 symptoms.
Board members considered mask usage, but decided to make masks “optional but not mandatory.”
“If you can keep social distance you don’t need the mask,” said Toelle. “If you can’t you need the mask.”
Temperature checks were also considered but not adopted.
“They’re finding the reliability of temp checks aren’t necessarily that great,” said Englebretson. “Many kids are asymptomatic and not showing the fever when they come.”
Instead, High School Principal Mark Stamper suggested it should be up to parents to make sure kids are not coming to school sick or with a temperature.
“The worry about at the door (temperature checks) is because you’ll get a big glut of kids right there,” Stamper said. “We’re encouraging self-check at home.”
Although the district has approved the plan for reopening, the board decided to table consideration of allowing extracurricular activities and sports.
“I lost a lot of sleep just deciding to send these babies back to school, I don’t know how we send them back (to sports) when we aren’t even sure this is safe,” said board member Nancy Walker. “It seems like we’re pushing the envelope more than we have to.”
Wagenson, who voiced the lone vote against the reopening plan, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I couldn’t support having our kids back five days a week, so having our kids do extracurricular is really a stretch for me,” Wagenson said. “Right now we’re in the worst spot we’ve ever been and we’re going to bring kids back to school.”
Another meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10. A vote to consider the resumption of sports and extracurricular activities is expected during that meeting, though an agenda has not been released yet. For more information on the school’s reopening plan, visit newlisbon.k12.wi.us.
Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.