Multi-level blended instructional plan in the works for SDR
By Eileen Persike
The School District of Rhinelander (SDR) will be rolling out a blended instructional plan when school opens in September. Superintendent Eric Burke explained the two-option instructional delivery model Monday evening at a special school board meeting, held in the high school auditorium to accommodate larger attendance. He asked those in attendance for trust.
“I know you don’t know me very well, but I work with a really great team that have been here for a long time and I ask that you trust us,” Burke said, adding that flexibility is also important. “How we are today can change in two weeks, it can change in a month, in two months…but the plan is flexible and responsive while also keeping education and safety as priorities.”
Option one includes three levels.
The “green” level is all students attending school in person, five days, with the exception being those who choose virtual learning.
The “yellow” level varies by grade, with pre-kindergarten attending two days per week, elementary students attending in person Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Middle and high school students will be split into two groups, each group attending two full days in person and two days of remote learning.
All students would work remotely from home on Wednesday.
The “red” level entails all buildings being fully remote, with staff reporting to school with safety measures in place.
Option two is full-time virtual learning through the district’s Hodag Tracks virtual learning program. A survey will be sent to parents Aug. 4 to sign up for this option. As of this writing, parents are required to enroll their students in the virtual option, for at least the first semester, by Aug. 17. Staff from Hodag Tracks will reach out to families to complete the enrollment form.
“If school were to start tomorrow, we would be in level two,” said Superintendent Burke. “That’s based on recommendations from our leadership team and health advisory panel.” A team of administrators and a few parents comprise the leadership team and the health advisory panel includes district nurses and physicians Dr. Jason Lowry and Dr. Julia Pickens.
“We believe in starting this way for the first month is a better chance to implement all of our procedures and protocols which we’ve never done before – we’re trying to figure this out and keep it as safe as possible,” Burke said. “It’s a better chance to slow the spread to our students and staff because there’s a lot we don’t know about how this is being spread and it changes almost daily.”
Burke said the decision on what level the district will be on when school begins will be made Aug. 17 and will be based on “what’s going on in our community, our county and based on what our health panel and medical experts are telling us.”
Several parents took the opportunity to address the school board. Some, like Abigail Davidson, are parents of children with special needs. Davidson voiced her concerns about how her son will receive the occupational, speech and physical therapies that he requires with the various schooling options. These are services through his Individualized Education Program (IEP) that were lost when schools unexpectedly closed in March.
“Now that you have time to plan, this issue must be addressed, not just for my son, but for others like him,” Davidson said. “These services are instrumental in their development and education … Receiving IEP services should always be non-negotiable, no matter the circumstances, no matter the learning platform.”
Other parents expressed frustration with what they perceived as unpredictable scheduling, or asked for more information regarding the measure used to evaluate moving from one level to another in option one.
School board member Mike Roberts commented that “If we want parents to make a decision about virtual [Hodag Tracks], we need to have a better understanding of the criteria,” such as the district uses with influenza or with the pertussis outbreak in late 2016.
“What we’re living through right now is unpredictable,” Dr. Lowry said, adding that to move forward, the district is taking a “more holistic” approach to move forward.
“If we hang our hat on the infection rate in the community, we ignore what we are doing in the school – the strategies, the procedures that we put in place,” he said. “Maybe it will be sufficient to keep our kids safe and allow them to keep in-person school even though the community is starting to rise.”
Board member Merlin Van Buren asked for the community’s help to keep the schools open.
“Without everyone here following the protocols, simple things like wearing a mask – our numbers will not stay down. Our schools will close,” Van Buren said. “Please. Do what’s necessary as you go around, and spread the word to the community. We need your help.”
The meeting agenda called for a report or discussion regarding the fall school opening plan, so there was no vote taken by the school board. It is expected another special meeting will be called in the coming weeks to discuss further details on the re-opening plan.