The 2019-20 school year is still in session, but Stoughton Area School District officials are already taking a deep dive into potential scenarios for starting the new school year Sept. 1.

District superintendent Tim Onsager updated school board members on the latest possibilities at their meeting on Monday, June 1. His main message is that above all else, people should not expect a return to the “old normal” in the fall, due to Dane County’s COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

“I predict there are going to be some differences that may include a combination of in-person and virtual instruction,” he said. “I don’t think you can count on that in-person instruction (being) five days a week. From what we’re hearing right now there will probably be a limit on how many children can occupy a space, whether that’s classroom or a bus.”

Onsager said the structure of a school day, such as when and where students go for lunch or recess, will likely need to change until a vaccine is found and the county changes its restrictions.

“There will be health and safety protocols in place – hand washing, health screening, knowing when someone should stay home when they’re ill,” he said.

Onsager said the district is working closely with other county school districts, as well as county and state health and school officials to make their plans. He said as neither the county nor the state has offered guidance to school districts; each is acting on their own.

Onsager said he realizes coming changes could create “significant” child care issues for parents of younger children. He emphasized the district is sifting through as many ideas as possible to find solutions, such as allowing siblings to attend in-person classes on the same days.

“We’re just trying to get as much information as we can,” he said. “There’s still a lot of unknowns, but I think what we can comfortably say is we’re not going to look the same as we have every other year from the start.”

Some scenarios include alternating students in two groups – one attending classes Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays, with the other attending Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternate Fridays. Another might be that one group attends school in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

“One district has a plan where you bring back K-7 (for classes) and then 8-12 goes virtual, because you can then spread out students in all your buildings for social distancing,” Onsager said. “We need to look at what we can feasibly do – academic, space size, staffing, and financial-wise.

“There’s no scenario that’s off the table; we’re looking at everything.”

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