Information on Reopening MHS

Information on Reopening MHS
Posted on 12/11/2020

Dear SDMA Families and Staff,

As previously shared, Menomonie High School will resume in-person learning on Monday, December 14. Principal Drake will be communicating with MHS families to detail expectations and options for all students who might or might not plan to attend school on Monday. The school district understands that some families might choose to have their child quarantine until winter break, and the district is aware that some students may choose to protest by not attending school. Mr. Drake and the staff at MHS will do their best to support all families and students.

Thank you to everyone who has shared feedback related to this difficult decision. Please recognize that these decisions are not simple and they are made with consideration of many factors. Unfortunately, some of the feedback received has been very disrespectful and in some cases quite vulgar, and there have been some pretty significant misconceptions created (especially on social media). For those interested in more information about this decision, please review the following excerpts from recent communications on this issue:

Why is MHS moving back to the In-Person Learning Model? 
There are many reasons why MHS is moving back to in-person learning, but the primary reason is that in-person instruction is the most comprehensive educational experience the school district can provide for our children. MHS went virtual due to a staffing shortage, but that is no longer a problem at the current time. With six schools still open in the SDMA and over 2,000 students and staff still reporting to school every day, there is only one active staff case in the entire school district and staff exclusions have stabilized at less than 3%. Additionally, there have been 0 new student cases reported this week across the entire school district. In communicating with teachers, principals, support staff members and many other people, some of the other more specific reasons for returning to in-person instruction at MHS include:

  • Concerns about inequities- home learning environments and supports that vary greatly for individual students 
  • Concerns about accountability- kids are slipping through the cracks
  • Concerns about seniors earning credits and being able to graduate
  • Concerns about meeting IEP requirements
  • Concerns about monitoring student progress
  • Limitations for in-person experiences needed for relationships with students
  • Limitations of GoogleMeet and other online tools
  • Concerns about difficulties with effectively instructing larger groups
  • Concerns about not enough "class time" to get through curriculum
  • Concerns about the inability to effectively replicate certain instructional and hands-on experiences- group music, labs, etc.

Was the student body’s opinion on returning to in-person schooling considered in this decision? 
Yes. The school district values input from all stakeholders, including students in the SDMA. With permission from administration, and under the direction of a teacher, the MHS Student Council created and administered a student survey. The school district helped support the Council's efforts by disseminating the survey to all students. It was not surprising that the results indicated that a number of students enjoyed having more time and freedom in the virtual school experience, but the rationale provided by the student's survey beyond the students' perceived preferences was quite limited. Also, it doesn't appear that enough students are considering how difficult virtual learning is for some of their peers and some families, or what the data of the survey results actually indicates. It is unknown as to how many students having difficulty with virtual instruction even responded to the survey. District administration wasn't given much time to review the results of the student council survey, but it appears that there were 434 responses. This is 49% of the 882 MHS students signed up for in-person learning. Of the responses, 67.6% (33% of all in-person students) indicated a current preference of the virtual environment over in-person instruction, and 78.3% (39% of all students) indicated a preference to stay virtual until the end of the semester. Preferences of 33% and 39% of the entire MHS student body are much different than how some people are representing the results of the survey as being a clear directive from all students.

Why is this decision being made now so close to winter break?
The plan was to reopen MHS no sooner than November 30, but the big spike in early November made that return date impossible. Staff data began to improve toward the end of the month, but more time was needed to see if the better data trends for district staff would continue. The district administrative team discussed the possibility of coming back on December 7, but we wanted more time to track the data and provide a better opportunity to prepare families and staff for the possible change. In a normal year, we might be more hesitant in making a change this late in the first semester, but this year is obviously much different. With the special block schedule that we are using at MHS this year, each term is its own grading period for high school students to earn credits. On December 14, approximately half of the second term will still be left. Prior to Thanksgiving, I had a discussion with one of the MHS teacher's about this topic expecting that he would say that it would not be worth it to open back up prior to winter break. To the contrary, he helped me understand how useful it would be to open for a number of reasons related to assessment, lab opportunities, accountability, and relationships. This teacher reminded me that MHS teachers had only 7 minutes of in-person instruction with their second quarter classes before MHS moved to the virtual format. Another teacher explained to me this week that if MHS stays with the current virtual schedule, students in the second quarter section of his AP class might receive 1000 minutes less of direct instruction than what was provided in the same class during the first quarter.

What is the plan for schooling after winter break?
Again, MHS moved to virtual learning due to a staffing shortage across the school district. Unless the district is unable to staff or is ordered by the health department to close, it is expected that MHS will be staying open for in-person instruction. The mitigation measures in SDMA schools have been very effective and the health department has visited to observe the protocols in action. There are six other schools still open in the SDMA, and while our schools are not fully immune to COVID-19, the disease activity level in our schools appears to be less than it is in the greater community. With that being noted, there is no guarantee that MHS will be open after the holidays. It appears that our staff, students, and community did a good job avoiding exposures over Thanksgiving, but we have learned that this pandemic is very hard to predict. If our school doesn't open now, it is difficult to predict when we would be able to open again.

Was teacher and staff member input considered in this decision?
Yes. Even though there wasn't a staff survey utilized by the district, input was solicited in multiple ways from MHS teachers and staff. In addition to a large amount of written feedback, a number of individual meetings were held with staff members, and a special meeting was held with MHS staff on Tuesday afternoon to discuss reopening. Some staff members would prefer to keep MHS in the virtual format, and there are others who think the school should already be open. Justification for these preferences varies greatly for both personal and professional reasons, but what seemed to be very consistent across the board is that people think in-person instruction is the best educational experience MHS can offer.

What is being done with MHS students to better mitigate COVID-19 at MHS?
While Menomonie High School is not immune to COVID-19 transmission, most cases have been contact traced back to exposures outside of our classrooms. The choices that students and staff make both in and outside of the classroom are very important to keeping people healthy and safe. It is understood that going back to in-person learning may provide more opportunities for students to expose each other if they are not careful, but the MHS Student Council has been asked to help encourage students to follow the proven mitigation measures. In order to make MHS even safer for students and staff, the Student Council has been asked to initiate a campaign of personal responsibility for students to comply with CDC recommendations both inside and outside of our schools. It has been suggested that a special emphasis be placed on unstructured times such as before school, lunch, and after school. 

Have students been pressured to not share their opinions and concerns?
No. Students are encouraged to share their thoughts and concerns, but some students might need guidance in understanding what they are advocating for. A few students have also been talked to about being respectful and refraining from using vulgarity in the advocacy efforts. Student Council leadership has provided guidance for how students can advocate in a productive manner, and some coaches and advisors have talked with students to help them understand that advocating for school to be closed to in-person instruction also means that they are probably advocating for shutting down all in-person sports and activities. Sports and activities were allowed to continue when the school was shut down for staffing issues, but sports and activities will not be allowed if in-person schooling does not resume. Students are encouraged to advocate for what they truly believe in, but it is important that everyone understands the potential ramifications of their advocacy efforts.

Why are so many people surprised that MHS is reopening before the end of the semester?
It was clear in the original announcement that MHS would be closed until at least November 30, but in an effort to keep families informed, I mentioned in my November 17 message to families that I anticipated (at that time) that the closure would last until January 22. There have been a number of additional communications since then to let families know that MHS might be reopening prior to the end of the semester, but I apologize for any confusion that my November 17 message may have created. In all honesty, I am pleasantly surprised at how much the COVID-19 numbers have dropped in our schools and in our community, especially since so many people were anticipating a large surge in cases right after deer hunting and Thanksgiving. I have been doing my best to predict the future, make good decisions, and keep people informed, but dealing with this pandemic has not been easy.

Thank you for your continued communication and support. If anyone has additional questions or concerns, please contact me or your building principal.


Joe Zydowsky
Joseph E. Zydowsky, PhD
District Administrator
School District of the Menomonie Area
215 Pine Avenue NE
Menomonie, WI 54751
[email protected]
Phone: (715) 232-1642