PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Several Platteville School Board members are questioning the safety of increasing face-to-face instruction for high-school students after the district’s superintendent announced his decision to move from two to four in-person days per week.
“What we have found as we’ve progressed through one-half of the school year is that virtual instruction is a barrier to learning for some of our students,” said Superintendent Jim Boebel, reflecting on adjustments made because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are at a juncture where I think we can make an adjustment.”
Students will attend classes in-person on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while classes will be held virtually on Wednesday.
Students still will have the option to opt for 100% virtual instruction, as has been the case all year. Eighty-eight students currently do so.
Parents or guardians of high school students will be asked to select their children’s preference and have until 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18, to decide.
The transition is scheduled to occur Monday, Jan. 25.
Students at Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center also will attend classes for an additional half-day per week on Wednesdays.
Platteville High School reopened in the fall by splitting students into two cohorts, with the halves attending classes on separate days of the week.
Boebel acknowledged that eliminating the system reduces students’ ability to social distance and increases the potential for quarantines or a schoolwide pivot to virtual learning if COVID-19 exposures occur.
However, he discouraged tying the decision to expand face-to-face learning to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
“There will not be a time in our school in which everybody is vaccinated because it’s not a mandatory thing to do,” he said. “When will that occur?”
A state advisory committee charged with prioritizing demographics for vaccination recently recommended that educators be included in the next group. District administrators estimate that about 75% of staff will accept the vaccine.
“Everyone who wants to get vaccinated is about to get vaccinated,” said School Board Member Vikki Peterson. “Simply by having the staff members protected … will reduce the ability for the (virus) to move through the buildings.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that COVID-19 case activity in Grant County remains very high.
John Sponsler, a math teacher at Platteville High School. also requested Boebel delay the switch.
“Let’s not compromise health and safety because a student failed gym or didn’t make it in geometry,” he said. “We have strategies to deal with failing grades. We do not have strategies to deal for lifelong health issues caused by COVID.”
The school board last year empowered Boebel to make school opening and closure decisions.
“We know this is a heavy, heavy burden,” Board Member Colleen McCabe said. “This is a heart-wrenching decision, but it’s (also) hard for students who need to be in a physical space with their teachers.”