Virtual learning returns to school board

Unanimous approval given after option of adding days, per DPI rules, less desirable
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Shawano School Board approved utilizing virtual learning days for grades 6-12 if there should be any more days the schools have to close due to weather on March 20, two weeks after the option presented left some board members less than enthusiastic about the proposal.

The virtual learning days were presented as part of a plan to make up for previous days taken off due to snowy and icy conditions but also incorporated having one day scheduled after spring break as a professional development day become a regular school day and the last day of school becoming a full school day instead of the half-day originally in the school calendar. Board members were concerned about virtual learning being an option after recalling how poorly things went during the COVID-19 pandemic and took it out of the plan they voted on March 6.

When Superintendent Kurt Krizan brought the item back March 20, he explained that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said there were two options for the district to make up the time lost if any additional closures needed to happen. Besides the virtual learning, the district had the option of adding more days to the end of the year, an option administrators and board members didn’t like because summer school was scheduled to begin the week after the last day of the regular school year.

“They said: ‘We know you’re having snow days. You basically have virtual learning days or adding minutes to your calendar. Those are your two options,’” Krizan said.

Under the plan, the middle and high schools would allow students to take learning devices home if a closure is anticipated, but there would be no live instruction from teachers on the days schools would need to be closed. However, teachers would be available for much of the day by email if students had any questions about the work assigned.

The learning setup would put a maximum on daily lesson time, including the completion of assignments, to 25 minutes for middle school students and 35 minutes for high school students. Because some students don’t have access to broadband internet, the lessons would not be able to include videos of teachers presenting lessons or to supplement the lessons available.

Krizan revised the plan to take out an additional day of work for staff at the end of the school year that was put in to make up for the lost professional development day, and the requirement for staff to work four additional floating hours was also removed. This was done after it was learned that staff members objected to having to work extra days when they usually have to do work during inclement weather days anyway.

Krizan said he was surprised that staff had concerns, considering he directed that the plan be presented for input just after bringing it to the executive committee, which sent it forward to the full board.

“Before this plan was presented to the board, it was presented at faculty meetings and asked for feedback,” Krizan said. “Neither I or any of the administrators received any feedback.”

Board member Mart Grams indicated there’s still lingering trust issues between staff and administrators, which is why he was emailed by staff members concerned about the extra work days.

“I had 27 phone calls,” Grams said.

Board member Bobbi Lemerond added she received calls about the issue, too.

Even though spring has arrived, that does not end the threat of more snowy weather between now and the end of April, Krizan noted. Already, between the two meetings, the district had to delay the start of school by two hours one day when a snowy mix hit northeast Wisconsin.

Board president Mike Musolff pointed out that adding school days was not desirable, so the virtual learning was the lesser of two evils.

“Nobody wants to add days to the calendar,” Musolff said. “I know there’s some concern about digital learning days, but I think they’re better than adding days.”

Board member Jeana Winslow criticized the plan being altered in the first place, noting that it had gone through the executive committee for review and refinement, and the board’s actions two weeks earlier indicated that the committees couldn’t be trusted to review the work.

“We had to send it back, and now it’s an action item for a second time,” Winslow said. “You said you trusted the executive committee to do what we did, but you still didn’t like it.”