Middleton-Cross Plains will begin school year under all-virtual model

MIDDLETON (WKOW) -- The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District announced Monday night that the 2020-2021 school year will begin with all-virtual instruction. The decision was based on the safety concerns of students, staff and families in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the recommendation to begin under that model from school administrators.

“The safety of our students, staff and families is our No. 1 priority,’’ Superintendent Dana Monogue said in statement in a press release provided by the district. “We want our schools open, however, doing so when the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing would not be putting safety first."

The adopted recommendation calls for the first quarter to consist only of online instruction. Students will receive lessons from teachers Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesdays will allow for "independent online learning" while staff has an in-week development day.

"We kept coming back to ensuring the health and safety of our students, our families, and our staff as the number one priority in our recommendation coming before the board," said district superintendent Dana Monogue.

The plan calls for the district to revisit the safety of reopening schools for in-person instruction 30 days into the school year. Monogue said the first benchmark would be Dane County moving into Phase 3 of the reopening guidelines established by Public Health Madison & Dane County.

A presentation to the board noted the progress staff have made in developing virtual techniques. Still, some board members noted concern about long-term effects of students missing out on in-person instruction.

"As time goes on, we need to balance those harms and those effects on our kids with the effects that we're talking about related to COVID as well," said board clerk Todd Smith.

Other members expressed belief improved online instruction would mitigate some of the impact, while also noting the format benefits some of the district's students.

"There are actually a number of kids in our district that favor virtual learning and have learned that this is a good model for them," said board member Anne Bauer.

A survey of district staff garnered more than 700 responses; 78 percent said the plan to return while 22 percent said they're still undecided. In a scenario where the district would begin with all-virtual classes, 96 percent said they would return. If the district were to start the school year with in-person instruction, only 55 percent said they would return with 36 percent saying they were undecided in that scenario.

Among parents, the district asked if they could be comfortable sending their children to school if local public health officials indicated it was safe to do so. 54 percent said yes but with some concerns, 30 percent said yes without any concerns, nine percent said no but could change their mind, and six percent said no, they wouldn't feel safe at all.

In her closing remarks, board president Annette Ashley acknowledged the board's decision to exacerbate the disadvantages some students already face by keeping them in an all-online learning environment. She added the most important consideration, however, was the safety of all students, staff, and district families.

"We understand the virtual environment may widen the gap for student achievement but for many in our vulnerable communities, this may be a life or death matter for them and their families," Ashley said. "We need to move forward as safely as possible."

Police stay in schools - but with a catch

The board also voted Monday to renew its contract with the Middleton Police Department to provide school resource officers. In June, the board voted to renew the contract but the Middleton Common Council rejected the plan later in the month.

The contract the board approved Monday added a clause calling for the school board and police department to conduct a joint annual review of the SRO program.

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