Milton schools to consider return to full-time in-person learning

Benjamin Pierce, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—MILTON — The Milton School District in the coming weeks will explore the possibility of bringing its students back to in-person learning every day.

No decision will be made in the immediate future, but Superintendent Rich Dahman said at Monday's school board meeting that the district wants to bring middle and high school students back to classrooms five days a week, indicating it could happen as soon as the Monday after spring break, April 5.

"We know that especially for our younger students, higher quality education takes place on-site versus virtual," Dahman said Monday.

If the district pursues the idea, Dahman said it would likely give families another opportunity to switch between in-person and virtual learning with the understanding that either option would run five days a week with no A/B day setup for secondary students.

This would allow those who feel it is unsafe to return to the classroom with more children to switch to virtual, Dahman said, adding that bringing the additional students back would make social distancing in the hallways and every classroom a struggle, especially at the middle and high schools.

Parents have asked the district to reopen the opportunity to switch learning models, and more students would be switching to in person, Dahman said.

This creates issues for both elementary schools and the older schools, too.

How would it work?

The district would maintain cohort learning in elementary schools, but the cohorts would grow and that would make social distancing an issue and contact tracing more difficult, Dahman said.

Concerns in those schools include:

* Lunchrooms.

* Staff having to move desks and tables back that were removed for social distancing.

* The district would likely have to add staff for the rest of the year with additional students.

Middle and high schools would be more difficult to manage with more students, Dahman told the board.

Some concerns in those buildings include:

* Hallways, lunchrooms, classrooms and passing time creating risk for transmission.

* Because so many students would be around each other, especially between classes and switching classrooms, an outbreak would not allow for social distancing and would likely lead to a pivot to online learning for up to 14 days.

* The lunchroom is more of a concern at the upper levels because they are short staffed.

* More staff would likely be needed.

"By bringing all the students in every day, that becomes a much bigger issue. We wouldn't be able to maintain the 6 feet of physical distancing. In the classrooms, it might be 4- to 5-feet physical distancing (in some classrooms)," Dahman said.

One possible remedy for the middle and high schools could come when the referendum projects are completed in late March or April because it creates more space and there will be more furniture, Dahman said.

Dahman said he currently has authority to move schools between in person and virtual after the board approved the power at a meeting earlier this year, but the board could change that at the next meeting if they want.

Later this week a survey will go to families of 4K through sixth-grade students asking them how they want their education to look. A similar survey will go to middle and high school families but is not likely this week, Dahman said.

"Once we get those numbers we will look at what potential class sizes would be and what transportation needs would be and whether we would be able to maintain that balance of limiting the risk and providing that high quality education," Dahman said.

Board members had differing opinions on the idea.

"I think everyone agrees that we all want as many kids back in school as soon as possible. I'm afraid that we might be jumping the gun a little bit," board member Rick Mullen said. "Numbers are getting better, I guess I would like to see them a lot better for a lot longer period of time maybe before we have this conversation."

Board members Brian Kvapil and Joe Martin disagreed, saying students are falling behind.

"My personal opinion is that we should get students in every day learning as fast we possibly can just because ... as much as we're trying, as much as the great work that teachers are doing, the students are still falling behind, and there's still that isolation that can lead to some pretty severe mental or psychological issues," Kvapil said.

Martin agreed, saying he appreciates that teachers have been flexible and doing the best job they can in the current arrangement but blended learning isn't as efficient.

"However, the best day virtually pales in comparison to the poorest day in person in my opinion," Martin said. "So I want to maximize the days that we can get these kids in a classroom with teachers."