Due to declining COVID-positive cases in Jefferson County, all middle and high school students in the School District of Fort Atkinson who elect in-person instruction will continue to be allowed to do so on a daily basis.
During their regular monthly meeting Thursday, board of education members voted unanimously to allow every day in-person attendance at the Fort Atkinson Middle School and Fort Atkinson High School.
In the elementary schools, children in grades K-5 also can continue attending in-person instruction five days per week if they prefer.
All students who choose to continue receiving their instruction via a remote, virtual learning platform still will be able to in the concurrent, or “mirrored,” learning format.
“Right now we have all of our middle school and high school kids who are wanting to be in person able to attend (classes) every day,” District Administrator Rob Abbott explained. “And we have our virtual, or concurrent learning option for those (students) who are interested as well.”
The district, he noted, has approximately 13 percent of its elementary students, 25 percent of its middle-schoolers and 30 percent of its high school students attending school virtually right now.
In giving his monthly schools reopening update, the superintendent said, “We were very excited to welcome all of our middle school and high school students back within the last couple of weeks for those who would like to be attending in person on a daily basis,” Abbott said. “That has gone very well for us.”
And, the district continues to offer a concurrent online learning option for all elementary, middle and high school students, he mentioned.
“And while that (option) definitely does present some challenges, it is also a very effective learning strategy, and is working for many of our families and students as well,” Abbott added. “So, we continue to thank all involved for their heavy lifting in helping that (dual-learning format) work, but certainly our families are showing their desire for that option to continue as we continue to navigate through all things COVID.”
While in-person instruction is occurring, he said, the district might, at some point, need to return to a virtual-only environment for educating students.
“If that were to be the case, we will definitely consider the Jefferson County (Health Department) guidance as it has been in our past, given positivity rates,” Abbott indicated. “Guidance has been shifting a little bit, so we are watching all of that very, very closely as it goes.”
He said the district has been “very fortunate” with how certain school days have fallen, whereby it has not been necessary to close unilaterally.
“And clearly that’s our hope to be able to continue doing that moving forward,” Abbott said. “I think it’s also a testament to the mitigation strategies we have in place, some of the cohorting that we’ve been able to do, some of the creative scheduling and other strategies.
“Of course, with hand-washing and masks and everything else,” he added. “But our building administration and staff have really done an incredible job of keeping us open.”
The superintendent said the current COVID-related data is “looking really fantastic” in Jefferson County.
“I think people are doing everything they can to keep kids in school, and to keep teachers and staff healthy, and to keep what we’re doing and the good work that we have under way in the forward direction,” Abbott remarked. “And that is not lost on us, and I know it’s not lost on you (residents). So, a very significant thank you to the community for everything that they’ve done.”
After operating last fall in an exclusively virtual learning environment, given a steady decline in COVID-19 data the board approved returning to in-person learning with a continued virtual option starting Jan. 5.
Since then, students at the middle and high schools who wished to be in-person have been allowed to attend classes in person on an alternating-day schedule to provide for the additional mitigation the dual-learning format and safety protocols required.
When the district switched to a “concurrent classroom” format on Jan. 5, some students attended class in person while others attended fully virtual.
The teacher in a concurrent classroom attempts to meet the needs of students both in class and online at the same time. This blended model, taught simultaneously, gives parents and students a preference of learning formats.
“We’ve been pleased to give families different (learning) opportunities to make that decision throughout the year, knowing that between COVID, or family needs or health issues that that choice might change for people,” Abbott said. “But we still have a number of people that are excited for us to have that virtual option. We’re committed to having people feel that their students are learning in whatever a safe environment means to them.”
Also Thursday, board members allowed continued use of district facilities by non-district adult groups, and requiring those adult users to pay the full cost of additional COVID-related cleaning fees associated with the facility use, which is determined by the building principal.
All cleaning and custodial duties are performed by school district custodians.
Since the January board meeting, the cost incurred by the district for adult facilities users is $17.50, Abbott said, noting that adult users have been paying the same rate as youth users to date.
Board members also agreed to have the district continue subsidizing half of the additional COVID-related cleaning costs for outside youth group facilities users. Since last month’s board meeting, the cost incurred by the district for youth users is $2,613.
“It’s nice to see our facilities being used as much as they are and as safely as they are, so that number (cleaning cost) has definitely grown, but so has the building use,” Abbott commented. “We’re happy that our community (groups) are able to use our facilities … in a safe way.”
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the retirement requests from Cassandra Jacobs, fulltime librarian at Fort Atkinson High School, after 21 years; James Dorn, fulltime Special Education teacher at Fort Atkinson Middle School, 19 years; Bette Delsarte, fulltime social studies teacher at the middle school, 24 years; Sabine Bottum, fulltime science teacher at the high school, 21 years; Kris England, fulltime second grade teacher at Barrie Elementary School, 18 years; and Curtis Brokmeier, fulltime school counselor at the high school, 29 years, effective at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
• Accepted a donation from Grace United Church of $500 to the School District of Fort Atkinson Angel Fund to support the free meal program.
• Heard Marissa Weidenfeller, district communications and community engagement specialist, recognize Wisconsin Public Schools Week, Feb. 22-26.