The School District of Reedsburg is looking into hiring more staff, including elementary school teachers, to see if it can continue face-to-face learning at two of its underutilized schools, while also talking about the possibility of going strictly virtual, if needed.
At a special board meeting Nov. 4 at the Cal Center, Reedsburg’s school board gave its support to search for 4K-5th grade teachers for a portion of the 2020-21 school year to generate a pool of candidates interested in teaching at Ironton/La Valle Elementary School and Loganville Elementary School. District Administrator Tom Benson said he will also form a plan for how teachers will be utilized and will share it at the board’s Nov. 16 meeting, where the possibility of hiring additional teachers will be reviewed. No formal action was taken.
The district posted on its website its looking for elementary school teachers on its Employment Opportunities page and Facebook page.
The school is considering using the two schools to further reduce class sizes to continue face-to-face learning four days a week or have remote leaning for students to have virtual learning lessons with a paraprofessional at the vacant classrooms at both schools. The measure would keep students socially distant and allow some students to come back to school more frequently, Benson said.
The item was an action item on the agenda for consideration. After discussion, school board members decided more information was needed to make the decision, especially with a tight budget and an $863,000 deficit, and to see who would be interested in teaching in Reedsburg with an already statewide teacher recruitment challenge.
Another obstacle is potential parent objection in taking their children out of their current classroom to move to another class in another town.
“There’s likely to be a certain level of push back on that process as well,” Benson said.
The decision to switch to a virtual model is not only based on the amount of students and staff who test positive for the coronavirus, but also the amount of substitutes available should a teacher have to quarantine if identified as a close contact.
Webb Middle School went virtual in early October due to a staffing shortage with the amount of teachers required to quarantine as close contacts and needing to quarantine from risk of exposure. Baraboo High School decided to shift to virtual learning starting Nov. 9 for three weeks for the same reason. The 4K-5th grade in Reedsburg went back to hybrid starting Nov. 9 after briefly switching to a four-day a week in-person model.
Through Oct. 30, the school district’s 7-day active absent and quarantine numbers is 293 students and 42 staff, with 10 students and 14 staff members with active cases of the coronavirus, according to the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard on its website. Through Nov. 6, the school district’s 7-day active absent and quarantine numbers is 211 students and 22 staff, with 6 students and 12 staff members with active cases of the coronavirus, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Business Manager Pat Ruddy said the numbers through Oct. 30 equal about 29% for close contacts that needed to quarantine with about 5% who actually contracted the virus for the timeframe.
“It’s a big hole, it’s an unusual hole for the numbers of staffing absences that we have to go by,” said Pat Ruddy, business manager.
Mechelle Thompson, the district’s human resource specialist, said Reedsburg has advertised its search for support staff and substitutes in the newspaper and online through its website, its WECAN page and the school district’s Facebook page.
The district is also reaching out to Madison Area Technical College in Reedsburg and UW-Platteville Sauk County in Baraboo to post job openings on its website as well as the Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce to communicate with the community and parents about applying for paraprofessional and substitute positions, she said.
Possibility of full virtual
The school board also discussed the district going 100% virtual for all students from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22, after Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas break, resuming the hybrid model the first day of the 2021 school year Jan 4. The school board took no action on the item.
Benson said the idea of putting the item on the agenda was a proactive approach. The district wanted to discuss a potential switch depending on trends with the virus in the community and county to limit the amount of people inside the school.
“Sauk County Public Health has asked us to have the conversation,” Benson said.
Board Member John Laukant suggested the school stay in the hybrid model as long as possible while continuing to maintain a safe environment and keep the fully virtual model as an option “in case things get worse.” Fellow Board Member Alice Heckenbach echoed what was talked about at the last school board meeting about the importance of keeping students on a consistent schedule and in a routine.
Many board members agreed staying in the current model was best for the time being, noticing the benefits of having kids in school and because school health officials say the spread of the virus is mainly coming from those contracting it outside its buildings, with very few inside the classrooms.
Several parents spoke against the measure of going fully virtual during public comment. They reflected on the mental strain it’s had on their children, even for the couple months the district went virtual last spring during the early days of the pandemic and when Webb Middle School shifted to virtual in October.
Some parents explained to the board how their children have fallen behind in their classes, even suffering from anxiety and depression. Some also talked about the struggle between balancing their job working from home and helping their children with school work.
Amy Bartels, a Reedsburg resident who has two children in the hybrid learning model, said virtual learning for the two days a week has presented a lack of structure and the stress of having to navigate the online learning systems and help with homework. Other parents also addressed similar feelings and concerns.
“This is creating significant amounts of stress on parents and children alike,” Bartels said, adding in-person creates more opportunities for students to be held accountable, have class discussions and get immediate feedback from teachers.
Jesse Phalen, who works as a nurse with the Sauk County Public Health Department and is the mother of a student at Reedsburg Area High School, said the safest option is to consider a switch to virtual learning for the holiday period with the trends in COVID-19 projected to rise.
She said the county’s amount of confirmed COVID-19 numbers increased in October. Phalen said if the rising trend continues, it would mean between Nov. 4 and Dec. 3 another 2,959 Sauk County residents could become infected with the coronavirus, along with 58 more hospitalizations and 16 deaths.
“These trends are concerning,” Phalen said.
While she said the local health system can handle the surge, it isn’t sustainable. Phalen said the health department reached capacity in early October with the amount of COVID-19 cases but wasn’t able to contract trace all the cases to identify persons as close contacts so they can quarantine.
“We don’t have the ability to keep up anymore with these numbers,” Phalen said, adding it’s up to parents and the community to make sure they are following CDC guidance to limit the spread of the virus.
Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.