School districts polish up plans for welcoming students back to school
Door County’s five public school districts are poised to welcome back some 3,500 students next month in what could arguably be the most challenging school year of any educator’s career. That means hammering out what a school year looks like beneath the shadow of a global pandemic.
District administrators, staff members and school board members have been at that task all summer, and they’re still at it. “Fluid” is one word that could describe the reopening plans to date. This applies not only to the mixture of in-class, physically distanced and virtual instruction being created, but it also means that school districts are remaining as nimble as possible to be able to respond to changing circumstances. If no two plans are completely alike, the school districts do all anticipate that circumstances will continue to change up until and after the school year begins.
“I feel no different than everybody else right now,” said Washington Island School District Principal/Curriculum Director Michelle Kanipes. “Everybody waits day by day, week by week, depending on the level of outbreak.”
For COVID-19 infection control and mitigation within the school buildings, districts are relying on guidance from the Door County Public Health Department. As Sturgeon Bay School District Superintendent Dan Tjernagel put it, “We are educational experts. We are not the public-health experts.”
Door County Public Health has released some preliminary guidance and is working on more complete information for schools and parents, according to Public Health Officer Sue Powers. The resources that her office is using to create those guidelines come from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the national Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
Although her agency has the authority under state statute and county ordinance to unilaterally close a school because of communicable diseases, Powers said she hoped to “avoid unilateral decisions” and will “work with school officials regarding considerations of school closures.”
Precautions and safety measures have been adopted by all the districts to protect physical health, and instructional models have been developed to foster academic health. Social-emotional and mental health are also being attended to.
Research shows that a student can bounce back from one bad school year, Sturgeon Bay’s Tjernagel said, but if a student experiences two bad school years, the risk of long-term consequences rises. Already the school closings earlier this year have been linked to increased risks of suicide and increases in body-mass indices, he said.
“We want to keep everyone safe, and that’s very important,” Tjernagel said. “The academic and mental-health consequences of what’s before us are truly massive.”
In short, Door County schools are reopening schools in September. How and when differs by district. Some of those differences are slight; others more significant. All are summarized below. Though academic instructional models differ, operational protocols for in-school wellness and safety are similar.
It’s important to remember that school districts are still planning. Where information was not available or conveyed, it will be forthcoming over the next month as districts continue to work through plans.