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Marinette School Classes Going In-Person March 1

Issue Date: February 17, 2021

At a long and intense monthly School Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Marinette School Superintendent Corrie Lambie unveiled plans to bring students in grades 6 through 12 into school for in-person classes four days a week beginning Monday, March 1. Wednesdays will be left open as a time to provide extra help for students who remain on virtual learning, and others struggling with course work. Students in the lower grades have been attending in-person classes since the school year began in September.

Lambie's plans drew objections from several board members, with the strongest coming from Charles Rowell. Board member Terri Florek reminded the board that when they gave authority to Lambie months ago they had expressed confidence in him and the administrative team, and declared, "I stand behind that day when we said, "Mr. Lambie, we've got your back.'"

At the end of the discussion Board Member Brian Ceranski declared he was proud of everyone involved. "This is a disagreeable subject, and we have shown as a board that we can disagree without being disagreeable!"

The evening for board members had begun at 4:30 p.m. with a closed session meeting to consider employment, compensation and personnel, and then the 6 p.m. open portion of the meeting lasted until after 8:30 p.m.

Other agenda items included an update by Sommerville Architects on the referendum right sizing project, approval of several roofing projects, and a report on the Marine Way score card for student achievement.

Lambie had approached the return to more in-person classes with a statement that it was on the information-only item, and a reminder that the board months ago had given him and the administrative team authority to open and close school attendance as they found it necessary. At the end, he presented a 3-minute video depicting the grief and frustration of a student who had spent months of days at home alone, with only her laptop for company.

During his report Lambie talked of students who came in for help on Wednesdays just because they were lonely for adult company and support.

Teacher Julie Ann Erickson, speaking from the audience during time for public comment, objected to resuming the in-person classes on March 1, and urged waiting until the start of the final quarter in April instead. She said this would give time for all teachers to be vaccinated, get them past Spring break, and give teachers more time to prepare. She is also the mother of five students in the district. "As a parent and as an educator, I am concerned about students' ability to socially distance," she declared, and added that the hybrid situation will not allow six feet of social distancing in every classroom. She felt the current hybrid system, with two days in school and three at home is working, and expressed confidence they would be able to be back to regular 5-days a week classes for the next school year.

Lambie cited results of the poll, in which 71 percent of parents said they want their children back to in-person classes full time, and 29 percent did not. There had been responses from 695 families. He said many in the 29 percent were from homes where students were studying from home in any case.

Lambie also cited CDC reports finding little evidence that schools are spreaders, and said out of 2,000 students positive tests were mainly zero to two per week. Staff covid cases since Dec. 13 have also been very low.

He said having only the 2-day per week in person classes may actually increase transmission risks between students since it gives them more opportunities to interact with others. He also cited numerous reports of psychological damage to students from being kept out of school, including increased numbers of suicides and reports of drug abuse. He quoted from a Washington Post story on the seven harms of keeping kids out of school, and promised they will monitor things very closely and return to distance learning if necessary.

Lambie said according to new CDC reports even with three feet of social distancing, masks and frequent hand washings work. He described mitigation measures that will be followed in classes and during changes of classes, and said masks will be mandatory. Instructors will also be encouraged to allow students time outdoors occasionally to give them a break from the masks.

He also reported discussions with the heads of two local clinics in which he was told students should be able to safely come back, provided masks are mandatory, and said within the re-opened classrooms students will be kept in "cohorts" as much as possible.

He had also talked with other administrators in area school districts where they have had great success with in person five-day per week classes.

Board President John LaCourt said he would prefer to see the re-opening delayed until after spring break, and said he sees problems with students not keeping masks on when they change classes and asked if there would be more disinfectant cleaning. He was told they cannot clean hallways during the day, but teachers disinfect between classes and the maintenance staff has a machine that can disinfect some areas, for example the auditoriums, in perhaps a minute.

Lambie said students are eager to get back to classes and see all their friends with business as usual will be disappointed, "because that's not happening." The social distancing will eliminate much collaborative work and close contacts. Daily monitoring of student illnesses will continue.

Rowell objected that the plans were relayed to staff before the board was informed, and also was upset because actual plans did not appear to be finalized. "I want kids to go back to school...I just want to understand the Plan," he declared.

Ceranski said parents who talked to him wanted their children back in school, and declared that nationwide suicides have doubled and tripled since schools were closed.


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