School Reopening: Washington Island Votes to Bring Students Back

Washington Island School District

Current enrollment: 75 students

What it’s doing: In-person instruction five days a week. School will start Tuesday, Sept. 1.

During its brief Aug. 3 school board meeting, the Washington Island School District voted unanimously to reopen its school at full capacity.

Washington Island Principal/Curriculum Director Michelle Kanipes said that among the challenges her school faces in reopening is the lack of substitute teachers in the event a staff member becomes ill.

“We really don’t have replacements,” Kanipes said. “That is the reality for us.”

She said the school will provide an option for virtual instruction, but it will face many challenges on that front.


Kanipes said there is still work to do to approve in-school safety protocols such as masking, but Washington Island students will receive the best education in their classrooms.

“We are going to follow whatever guidelines that will be given to us from the state down through the local health department,” Kanipes said. “I feel no different than everybody else right now; everybody waits day by day, week by week, depending on the level of outbreak.”

Kanipes said that the board also approved an option for students to remain at home for remote instruction, but that choice will come with many challenges – particularly pertaining to broadband access. 

She said the school won’t have a sense of how many students will participate in remote learning until more details are rolled out about how in-classroom instruction will work. The district’s June parent survey was split on whether parents felt their children should return in person or remain virtual.


Kanipes said that keeping buses at low capacity has never been a problem on the Island, but she will encourage students to be dropped off or drive themselves to school to ensure social distancing. Washington Island has two buses and two school vans for transporting students.


Kanipes said access to technology is not as much of a problem as having decent access to the internet.

“Being a one-on-one school district, children having access to devices is not the issue,” she said. “The issue is the connectivity to a stable internet provider.”

Kanipes said she has called on legislators to create some sort of stabilization package that gives rural schools such as Washington Island the ability to go remote with no problems.

“When we had to go virtual in March, we noticed among students and among staff that Wi-Fi was an issue,” she said.

Wellness measures

Washington Island has not yet formally approved any safety or wellness requirements, but those will come after future board discussions. The district intends to follow the most recent guidelines from the state and county.

Nutrition/food programs

Washington Island does not have an in-school hot-lunch program, so there will be no challenges with students providing their own food.