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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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By Split Vote Coleman Board Rules Blended Leaning For Grades 6-12

Issue Date: August 5, 2020

Two Days Each Week in School

By narrow 4 to 3 vote margins, Coleman School Board at a special meeting Monday, Aug. 3 voted that classes will start Monday, Sept. 1 with students from pre-K through grade five attending traditional in-person classes five days a week and those in grades 6 through 12 attending blended learning classes, with half attending in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays for them will be a day for cleaning, teacher preparation and extra help for students who need it. Masks will be required for students and staff, at least in the upper grades, and for everyone on busses.

A third option, if the coronavirus problem gets worse, could be to return the entire school to the on-line version of classes, with all students studying at home.

Parents who opt to have their children stay at home and attend classes entirely by virtual learning can do so, Administrator Doug Polomis said.

In all cases and models, students will be given letter grades this year.

Also by split vote, board approval will be required before any change can be made to the selected model, unless there is again a closing order issued by the state. At this point, state government and the Department of Public Instruction have left that decision up to the individual boards of education.

About 50 members of the public were present for the meeting and many of them spoke in favor of the traditional 5-day traditional education model for all students, and pointed out difficulties students and parents face in trying to deal with at-home learning. Several of the speakers were students who begged the board to let their lives get back to normal.

Words of many of the speakers, including Polomis and board members, were often muffled due to the masks.

Decision to go with blended learning for the upper grades rather than 5 days per week came despite their pleas, and despite the wishes expressed by over 70 percent of the parents who responded to a previous public survey.

District Administrator Doug Polomis strongly supported the blended learning model for the upper grades, as he had in a prepared presentation at the monthly board meeting on Monday, July 20. He repeatedly stated keeping staff and students safe had to be the top priority of administrators and the school board.

Board member Corey Kuchta slightly disagreed, stating education should be the top priority. Kuchta, with support from Jeremy Hoida and Barbara VanDrisse, spoke and voted strongly in favor of the 5-days per week traditional model for all students. Barbara Krause-Klug, Joanne Nowak, Scott Herzog and Board President Ryan Wendt favored the model recommended by Polomis and a 30-member committee he had selected to advise him.

Finally, after nearly three hours of discussion, Nowak moved, with a second from Krause-Klug, to start school on Sept. 1 with the blended model as presented, with 4-unit classes in the upper grades (two days in school and two days on-line) and five days for grade five and below, with any changes to be a board decision unless ordered by the state. Voting in favor in addition to Nowak and Krause-Klug were Wendt and Herzog. Hoida, Kuchta and VanDrisse were opposed.

In other action, Polomis said middle school cross country was scheduled to start Aug 17, and that may still happen. Motion was made by Kuchta and seconded by Van Drisse to allow all middle school sports programs to start as soon as they feel comfortable. Wendt asked if that was to be the decision regardless of decisions WIAA may make. He said he would vote yes on that issue if WIAA allows all sports to open. So far WIAA has left the decision to the local districts.

Kuchta argued that many programs are allowing youth sports on the school grounds and he would consider middle school sports to be in that category. The motion failed, with Kuchta, VanDrisse and Hoida in favor while the rest of the board was opposed.

Kuchta then moved, with a second from Hoida, to have middle school sports follow WIAA regulations for the start of high school sports, and that motion passed unanimously.

Hoida asked if youth sports would still be allowed on the school grounds before September. He said his youth football group has its first scrimmage with zmarinette scheduled for Monday, Aug. 10. He said if the board's answer was no he would need to find them another place to scrimmage. The item was not on the agenda, and Wendt said they could not act, "but I feel after tonight's meeting there will be other issues, and we may need another special meeting."

Nowak pointed out some time ago the board had agreed to allow organizations to use school outdoor facilities, so the answer would be yes, the youth football scrimmage could be held then. Kuchta said in that case their program would start Tuesday, Aug. 4.

At the start of the long hard meeting Wendt recognized the large number of citizens present and said anyone who wanted to talk would have a chance, but asked them to: "Please refrain from too much excitement until the end of the meeting."

Polomis explained about the study committee, and referred to a number of questions for the board to consider before reaching their decision. Polomis declared everyone agrees the shut-down last spring was not good for anyone, but said they have made a lot of progress since then on handling virtual at-home education, including purchase of "platforms" for the virtual learning programs and making sure staff members know how to get aboard and move forward.

Polomis pointed out difficulties in trying to have any sort of social distancing with all 750-plus students and over 100 staff members in the school at one time. He said social distancing, masks and frequent cleaning and hand washing are key to stopping the spread.

Polomis said the decisions made for the recommendations brought to tonight's meeting, "were not easy," and outlined how the 30-member advisory committee, made up of staff, health professionals and parents, had been formed. The advisory group had started meeting on July 8 and put a lot of work into the recommendations, with input from the CDC, State Department of Health, Marinette and Oconto County Public Health officers, School Nurse Kelly Mitchell, Wisconsin Association of School Nurses and CESA 8 nurses, Polomis said.

He said the intent of the split class recommendation to allow social distancing would limit the spread, "and help keep our buildings open as long as we can." He noted anyone who tests positive will be quarantined for 10 to 14 days, and also there are carriers without symptoms. He said social distancing and keeping classes in "cohorts" will have a large impact on how many students and staff members will have to leave the buildings.

With the blended learning model for upper grades the number of students on busses, entering and leaving the building, eating lunch and using other parts of the building at one time would be reduced.

He said 75 percent of the middle school and high school staff prefer blended learning. He said sports are extremely important to everyone, and cautioned that if they have to close the buildings, "I am confident extra curriculars will have to come to an end."

The state has identified green, yellow and red zones, with green having no new cases, yellow mid-point and red the highest risk. Right now, because of the number of new cases identified in Marinette and Oconto counties between July 1 and Aug. 1 and the small number of intensive care beds available, Coleman School District is in a red zone. "This is the reality of where we sit," he said.

He said as he had at previous meetings that the safety of students and staff should be the top priority, "..and that commitment will not change no matter what happens tonight."

Kuchta commented that was "a loaded question." He asked what about students' mental health, social well being and education, and suggested those should be the board's top priority.

Herzog felt the questions should be asked later.

Wendt declared to him the priority was "a no-brainer...if not, you guys are reading too much into it."

A man from the audience asked if they had gotten to this point without public input. Polomis said there had been a survey of district parents, and they followed guidelines from health officials and "other stake holders." The speaker asked that the board be allowed to hear from the audience before their decision on the separate questions, not after.

He spoke of block scheduling with four classes a day as being good for the blended learning, and at the July 20 meeting had said doing that would allow easy transition from traditional to virtual learning should that become necessary. However, at the Aug. 3 meeting he and Principal Yvette Marshall spoke of scheduling difficulties with block scheduling if they have all students in school five days a week.

One of the speakers praised the Coleman School Board's concern for students as one of the reasons he and his family had moved to Coleman, but said the decision of sending their kids to school or not should be left to parents. As to safety, there is risk in football, wrestling and other activities, and his family has had its share of difficulties, but declared, "We are not in a position of raising our children to operate from a position of fear." He said since this pandemic started he has been in all four corners of the earth, "and out living hasn't stopped."

He concluded, "I as a parent have made the decision to send my kids to school five days a week if possible. He added if that's not possible, there is no excuse to have sports.

A mom said her husband has asthma, and she would never put her kids in harm's way,"but my kids are about ready to kill each other and need to get back to school...COVID is here to stay and we have to live with it." She added they are spending a lot of money on the new building and the tech ed equipment, and if kids go to classes two days a week they won't get to use it.

"With this whole blended learning thing, teachers will spend more time babysitting than teaching." She added as a parent she is not trained to teach, and she has four kids plus a business to run from home, and declared, "You're expecting a lot from parents.".

Another speaker declared, "The virus is here to stay and we have to learn to live with it." Another said the illnesses started in November, a lot earlier than the experts thought, "...and we survived...Now you're asking parents to give up their jobs and stay home."

Another speaker declared the virus is "an election epidemic that has become political, and socialization for kids is being sacrificed. "Schools are not for fear mongering, they are for education." He cited numbers, including the three total deaths in Marinette County, none since March, and the extremely small percentage of people who became ill, putting the percentage at .0007 percent.

"When will this end?'" another asked.

Polomis said they could go back to normal when the area is "green," with no new cases.

"Another speaker said her 86-year-old great grandmother had coronavirus, and recovered with no problems. Not everyone gets severely ill.

"I want you to understand how badly we want to go back to school," a high school senior declared. She added that students need interaction with other people, and tearfully added, "We've already missed too much of the best years of our lives. Please don't take this away from us!"

Several other students expressed similar sentiments.

Another Mom said her 12 year old son told her he hadn't learned anything since March 12, even though she tried to teach him. She works in the health care field and declared schools need to open.

Other parents said kids will get together outside of school whether they are allowed to go to classes or not, and urged, "Please don't vote out of fear."

Kuchta said as a board members, it is their duty to represent the majority of constituents, and they have spoken. His request that the board support the 5 days a week model drew loud applause, but failed to convince four of the seven board members.

It now appears the only way the higher grades will return to normal five days per week of in-school learning is if there are no more cases of Covid-19 diagnosed in this area for an unknown period of time, after which the board could chose to act, unless before then one board member were to decide to change the selected model.


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