Whitefish Bay school board approves plan to start school year with in-person and virtual learning

The Whitefish Bay School District board met virtually Monday evening, Aug. 3 to finalize plans to return to school for the fall semester. During the meeting, The Whitefish Bay School Board unanimously approved the administration's recommendation to start the 2020-2021 school year in a blended learning model -- meaning in-person learning along with virtual learning. 

The vote came after a marathon special meeting that lasted more than five hours. 

"This is not going to be pre-COVID school," said John Thomsen, administrator. "Students and staff will have masks. They'll have to social distance. There will be a lot of handwashing."

But Thomsen said plans for the 2020-2021 school year are the best option to provide the best learning environment for students in a pandemic.

The plan, in the works since March, is to start the year with in-person, face-to-face learning, along with real-time virtual learning -- meaning some students in a classroom, while others log in from home -- also giving families the option to choose fully virtual learning.

"If we're going to be successful, it's going to take every family and everyone in the community to commit to this," said Thomsen. 

The district is following a number of different gating criteria in conjunction with the North Shore Health Department to determine how safe it is to continue the preferred blended learning option, but administrators said that a classroom, hallway, building or district could quarantine, close and pivot to virtual learning if an outbreak occurs.

"Those types of decisions will occur in real-time," said Thomsen. "That may mean a handful of kids are quarantined. That may mean a whole classroom, or multiple classrooms, or a school."

Meanwhile, on top of normal class learning, the plan includes educating students at all grade levels about virus mitigation, from K-12, and administrators say parents play a major role, as well. 

"If your kid is being tested for COVID, don't send them to school," said Kristin Bencik, school board member.

District administration noted the decision made by the board Monday night could change depending on the trajectory of the virus' spread in the community.