SDMA Reopening Plan Info

SDMA Reopening Plan Info
Posted on 08/14/2020

Dear SDMA Families and Staff,

As schools across the country work to reopen, there has been much discussion about the various measures being considered to mitigate risk and help keep our students and staff healthy. 

Due to a profane outburst by a Board member during Monday's school board meeting, the discussion about the SDMA Reopening Plan (which was approved on an 8-1 vote) was cut short. 

While everyone in the School District of the Menomonie Area is very concerned about COVID-19, here is some of the information that informed the recommendation for possibly beginning the school year with full enrollment emphasizing, but not requiring, six feet of physical distancing in all classrooms.

  • It is unlikely that the school district can be open to all students if strict physical distancing of six feet is required at all times. We are anticipating that six feet can be achieved in all K-6 classrooms, but distancing in some 7-12 grade classrooms will probably be less than six feet. Class sizes will depend on how many families chose the full-time virtual learning option, but there might be some classrooms or activities during the school day where distancing will be less than six feet. The middle school and high school principals have been directed to ensure that at least four feet of spacing can be achieved in all classrooms at MMS and MHS.
  • According to the CDC, "Schools provide critical instruction and academic support that benefit students and communities in both the short- and long-term. The main role and priorities of K-12 educational institutions are to provide age-appropriate instruction and support students’ academic development. Reopening schools will provide in-person instruction for students, facilitate increased communication between teachers and students, and provide students with critical academic services, including school-based tutoring, special education, and other specialized learning supports."
  • It is very important to provide an in-person schooling option for as many students as possible. This is detailed on the CDC website which notes, "Studies show that students have experienced learning loss during the period of school closure and summer months. In-person instruction for students has advantages over virtual learning, particularly when virtual learning was not the planned format for instruction, and schools may not have the resources or capability to transition fully to virtual learning. In-person classroom instruction has the added benefit for many students of interpersonal interaction between the student and the teacher and the student and peers. Teachers are able to more actively participate in student learning, provide feedback as students encounter challenges, and promote active learning among students. In-person instruction may be particularly beneficial for students with additional learning needs. Children with disabilities may not have access through virtual means to the specialized instruction, related services or additional supports required by their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 Plans. Students may also not have access through virtual means to quality English Language Learning (ELL)".
  • The importance of opening all SDMA schools for the opportunity of in-person learning was made clear with unanimous support from the school board earlier this summer. According to the CDC, "the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities".
  • Some in our community have tried to use the CDC guidelines as a reason to keep schools in the SDMA closed, but the CDC was clear in noting, "Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community." Toward the end of this article about physical distancing from the Washington Post, CDC Director Robert Redfield is quoted as saying that it would be "very disappointing" if local officials use the CDC guidelines as a reason for not reopening schools.
  • Working with our local health department is exactly what we have done in the SDMA. K.T. Gallagher, the Director of the Dunn County Health Department, has been instrumental in the development of the SDMA Reopening Plan. The school district is in regular contact with the health department to monitor COVID activity in our community and we are ready to adjust the mitigation measures and move to a blended or virtual learning plan if needed.
  • The use of physical distancing is only one of many mitigation measures being used in schools to protect against COVID-19.  According to the CDC, "When maintaining 6 feet of distance is not feasible, try keeping as close to 6 feet apart as possible, recognizing that the closer you are, the more likely it is for respiratory droplets to be passed between people. In situations where maintaining physical distance is difficult, it is especially important to wear cloth face coverings." The school district had already implemented a face covering requirement when 6' of distancing could not be achieved, and now the SDMA will be complying with the Governor's order requiring the use of cloth face coverings at nearly all times.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "There is a conflict between optimal academic and social/emotional learning in schools and strict adherence to current physical distancing guidelines. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that schools 'space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible'. In many school settings, 6 feet between students is not feasible without limiting the number of students. Evidence suggests that spacing as close as 3 feet may approach the benefits of 6 feet of space, particularly if students are wearing face coverings and are asymptomatic. Schools should weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a 6-feet spacing rule between students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative. Strict adherence to a specific size of student groups (eg, 10 per classroom, 15 per classroom, etc) should be discouraged in favor of other risk mitigation strategies."
  • The Word Health Organization advises that it is important to "maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and others."

Please know that the SDMA Reopening Plan was not created in a vacuum. In addition to a ton of collaboration with the health department, SDMA planning team, and other school districts, agencies, and institutions around the state, the school district considered the input provided by 2,171 family surveys and 258 staff surveys. 

In those surveys, 57% of families and 69% of staff indicated that physical distancing should be used as much as practical as a mitigation measure in our schools.  When asked about strict physical distancing (ie. 6' or more), 18% of families and 26% of staff indicated that strict physical distancing should be used as a mitigation measure in our schools.

Finally, it is important to note that the SDMA is not the only school district planning to open schools without strict 6' physical distancing requirements. By taking the time to review plans from other schools in our county, region, state, and country, it can be seen that while physical distancing is an important part of all plans, few are strictly requiring a distance of at least six feet. 

The school district will continue to work closely with the health department, and if the COVID-19 burden and trend in our county rises, it is very possible that we will quickly pivot to an alternating schedule in grades 7-12, which would allow for stricter physical distancing across the school district.

Sorry for the length of the message, but thank you for your attention and consideration.

Joe Zydowsky