Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

The outside of the Verona Area School District administration building.

Much like a fire evacuation route or a tornado safety drill, the district has a plan for reopening in the fall it’s hoping it doesn’t have to use.

That plan, presented to the Board of Education at its Monday, June 15, meeting, details how schools would operate only 50% the capacity, to meet county, state and federal COVID-19 health guidelines.

“We would love to be able to be in a place where we can reopen with fewer restrictions,” assistant superintendent for academic services Laurie Burgos said. “We just don’t know yet.”

No action was taken on the plan by the school board, but superintendent Dean Gorrell asked that members make a decision on how to reopen no later than the Aug. 3 meeting so teachers and staff have time to execute it.

The plan would have students split into eight groups and assigned a letter of the word “Wildcats,” after the high school’s mascot. Any students in the group that would spell the word “Wild” would have in-person schooling on Mondays and Tuesdays and do virtual learning for the remainder of the week. The remaining students, in the “Cats” group, would have in-person schooling on Thursday and Friday, starting each week with virtual learning.

Wednesday would be a deep-cleaning day for custodial staff, and all students would do virtual learning from home that day.

The plan has two variations that would allow students with special needs to attend school three days a week for additional support and kindergarteners to attend school every day.

Families who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school in-person could opt into an exclusively virtual learning environment, Burgos said.

The plan was made with a few assumptions about what the health guidance, especially according to occupancy, would be in the fall, because as of last week, no guidance for reopening K-12 schools had been provided by the county or state, Burgos said.

Those assumptions were that schools would be required to have fewer than 15 students per bus and classroom, practice social distancing, have minimal student mixing during the day and allow no large gatherings of students. The district will need to follow whatever county or state orders are in place and will try to meet any health guidelines as closely as possible, Gorrell told the board after Tom Duerst expressed frustration over not being able to fully reopen.

Other board members had concerns about specific elements of the plan, including how the district would help prevent widening of the achievement gap – students of color being academically behind their white peers – as well as how high schoolers might be able to learn while only being in school two days a week and transportation costs.

Administrators said Badger Bus would be able to run the same routes during all four days that students would be able to attend school in-person. Had additional routes been needed – at around $55,000 apiece – that would have severely limited how many students could come to school, Burgos said.

She also said district staff made sure the groups represented the demographic characteristics of the district as a whole, using an interactive mapping system. District assessment and data specialist Brad Humphrey built the system to show demographics and location of each group of students.

The resulting plan, of eight equal size-groups, would ensure a diverse representation of students in the building each day. Humphrey compared it to Neapolitan ice cream, where there’s a little bit of every flavor – in the district’s case, student’s racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and language-learning demographics – in each spoonful.

“If you look at ‘Wild’ or you look at ‘Cats,’ all the spoonfuls kind of look the same,” he said.

Burgos said that based on the district’s neighborhood demographics, it would be easy to create segregated schools if neighborhoods were all bunched together in groups, but the district wants to avoid that.

Burgos also said administrators are discussing the possibility of accelerated learning to meet some academic standards, rather than trying to make up time that was lost to the school closures in March.

What the district doesn’t want to do, Burgos said, is lower its standards, because that will lead to creating larger achievement gaps between students.

“This is where formative assessments are really helpful for our teachers, meaning we’ll be taking a look at what students are doing in real-time with us, in class, as compared to whatever the grade level standards are so that we know how to scaffold up and support them,” she said.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.