July 22, 2020
Oconto Falls Public Schools Parents and Guardians,
I am writing to inform you that the Oconto Falls Public Schools Board of Education considered a recommendation on Monday, July 20, regarding the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year. To begin the meeting the Board listened to more than sixty five public comments from parents, students, and community members regarding their perspective relative to the reopening of our schools. The Board then considered information that was presented to them regarding multiple different instructional models that ranged from fully face-to-face, blended hybrid models that included both face-to-face and virtual instruction, as well as a fully virtual option. Three different priorities were consistently discussed which included our focus on safety for students and staff, the desire to educate our students in as much of a face-to-face model as we believe is prudent given our circumstance, as well as our focus on how these decisions affect our families. Throughout the conversation mitigation of risk regarding the spread of COVID-19 was discussed at length and included potential changes to how we conduct day-to-day operations in our schools, the wearing of face coverings as a way to reduce risk, and the challenge of physically distancing students while transporting them on our school buses. Below are a few examples of changes that were discussed:
As part of the presentation it was recommended to the Board that both staff and students be required to wear masks in an effort to reduce the risk level and better enable us to provide face-to-face learning in the fall. It was shared that this is especially important in situations where we are unable to socially distance our students such as on our buses, in cafeterias, hallways and many classroom settings. It was also discussed that if the decision of the Board is to come back to school in a more face-to-face setting, this will result in a lesser capability to socially distance; thus, wearing a mask will be even more important as an action to mitigate the risk level for students and staff.
As part of the transportation discussion, Board members were made aware of the high number of students that ride our buses every day (more than 80% ridership). This often results in 50-60 students per bus which does not allow us to physically distance students. Parents that are able and willing to transport your child who normally would ride a bus, please call our transportation department at 920-848-4460. It was further discussed that another option for the Board to consider, if they feel the need to further reduce the number of students on the bus, would be to stop transportation services for students that live within two miles of their school. This action would reduce the number of students riding the bus by approximately 25%. To a lesser extent the Board could consider stopping transportation services for students that live within one mile of the school as a potential alternative. The result of this action would be a reduction of approximately 10%. Either of these actions would help alleviate the congestion on the bus and better enable distancing students. However, we also recognize that this action would have a negative impact on those families directly affected by the change in service. As part of this discussion the point was made that if we implement a mask requirement it would help mitigate the risk of viral spread on the bus and provide greater latitude to not initially implement a change in service for students living within the two-mile radius of their school.
The board was presented with information relative to the benefits and drawbacks related to multiple different educational models. It is important to note that families that desire to have their children involved in fully virtual education will be provided with a virtual option. Fully virtual students will be offered an option new to Oconto Falls called Acellus. More information is provided below. This link will provide you with a short video as well as other information that we hope you will find informative.
When reviewing the different educational models (fully face-to-face, hybrid, and fully virtual), the discussion focused on our priorities of safety, educational capacity, and how the models would potentially impact families. The proposal from our administrative team was for the board to consider a hybrid model that involved elementary students (4K-5) attending school face-to-face four days each week (M, T, Th, F) and learning from home each Wednesday. Secondary students (6-12) would be divided into two cohorts with approximately half of the students attending school face-to-face two days each week and then accessing their education virtually three days each week.
We Will Be Offering a New Virtual Option
For parents interested in having their student/s attend school online, the Oconto Falls Virtual Program offers a great option. Oconto Falls School District has recently partnered with Acellus to bring high-quality online education to Oconto Falls. Acellus uses video-based lessons with cutting-edge technology to accelerate learning, elevate standardized test scores, and to prepare students to transition into careers and college. The program is available to students entering kindergarten through 12th grade.
Students will have access to a list of curriculum offerings to meet their needs, with the help of an Oconto Falls educator. Stayed tuned for more information coming shortly.
Parents and students that are interested may contact Danny Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLICK HERE for more information about Acellus
The Board Has Not Made a Decision
We anticipated that our board members would need time to reflect on the information presented to them which is why we scheduled a special board meeting for July 29, at 6:00 p.m. We anticipate that our board will have further dialogue at this meeting regarding a back-to-school plan and may take action relative to identifying an educational model to begin the year. I anticipate that they will also be discussing the topics of face coverings and transportation given the importance of these issues relative to our programming and our ability to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Dean R. Hess
Superintendent of Schools