By Steve Kretzmann
The reopening of school was again the main topic for the Washington Island School Board’s monthly “committee of the whole” meeting on August 17 via Zoom.
At their special work meeting on July 31, the board charged Principal and Curriculum Director Michelle Kanipes, Superintendent of Business Services Sue Cornell, and Title 1 Coordinator Margaret Foss with drawing up a detailed plan for starting in-person instruction on Sept. 1, with an alternative distance learning option for families who don’t feel comfortable sending students to school.
Kanipes, Cornell, and Foss used information from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Department of Public Instruction, the Door County Health Department, and the Centers for Disease Control to compile a 22-page guide for reopening to be distributed to school families.
Board members, teachers, and staff had received copies of the plan before the meeting and came ready with questions and suggestions.
Board member Kirsten Purinton had prepared several suggested edits to clarify sections of the plan dealing with in-school health precautions.
Board member Sara Sorensen argued that mask-wearing should be mandatory at all times for all staff and students in the school building. Several teachers echoed that position, and the plan will include that requirement, as well as social distancing and cleaning protocols within the school.
Another topic that generated extensive discussion was whether students who chose to receive virtual instruction at the start of the year would be allowed to change to in-person learning, and conversely, if students starting with in-person could switch to distance learning. A consensus emerged that one switch per student would probably be manageable, but that frequent switching would be impractical for both teachers and students.
The board discussed the question of health checks but did not come to a final decision at the meeting. Administrative Assistant Zuzka Krueger suggested it would be possible to do a fast temperature scan for arriving students every day. Purinton commented that families should be the primary monitors of their students’ health every day.
The logistics of morning school arrivals also came up for discussion. Board members put forth several different proposals for controlling the flow of students into the building to avoid close contact. Possible alternatives included marking waiting lines on the sidewalk, as many stores have done. Students might also be asked to remain in their cars until they can safely enter the school when they drive or are dropped off.
A large obstacle to making informed decisions on many of these issues was that the board did not know how many families and students would opt out of in-person instruction. By necessity, the reopening plan leaves out many details of instruction. Teachers have to prepare for both in-person and virtual instruction, but because no one knows how many students will opt for each alternative, planning is difficult.
At the end of the meeting, the board formally approved the plan with several edits and clarifications that had been submitted by board members. The plan was to be distributed to students’ families, and they will have the choice of which instruction model their students will use.
In other business the board discussed the possibility of installing a building-wide iWave air purification system in the school. The board tabled the question until the buildings and grounds committee could research the effectiveness of the system.
The board also heard a presentation from Bec Kurzynske, a representative of the M3 Employees Benefits Service team, about a long-term disability insurance benefit that could be added to school employees’ compensation packages. The board agreed to look at the plan and make a decision at a future meeting. The plan would cost the district about $2,100 a year.
The next regular school board meeting was scheduled for August 24 at 6 p.m. Zoom links for all public board meeting are posted on the school district’s website.