Tomah High School and Tomah Middle School will implement an in-person/virtual hybrid model to start the 2020-21 school year. The Tomah School Board voted 6-0 to authorize revised schedules for grades 6-12 during its July 20 meeting at Robert Kupper Learning Center.
High school principal Robert Joyce and middle school principal Michael Chapes presented plans in which students attend classes two days per week on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule while staying home for virtual instruction the other two days.
Friday is set aside for students who need additional help or are taking advanced courses. Those students have the option of coming into class that day or receiving instruction remotely.
Joyce said it was important to offer a plan that includes some in-person instruction.
“We want to get kids back in our buildings,” Joyce said.
Classrooms in Wisconsin were disrupted last March, when Gov. Tony Evers ordered all public and private schools to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomah schools quickly shifted to virtual classes but ended the school year two weeks early on May 22.
Joyce and Chapes presented plans for block scheduling that limit the mixing of students during the school day. The 9-12 high school will offer four blocks with no study halls, and students will eat lunch in their classrooms. Students will take four classes each semester, totaling eight credits for the school year.
The 6-8 middle school will have four 85-minute blocks, plus a 55-minute block for related arts. Middle school students will also eat lunch in their classrooms.
Parents can keep their children home all five days, and Joyce estimated about 20 percent of parents will choose the all-virtual option.
Grading will return to normal, and Joyce said students will be expected to keep pace during the days they aren’t in class.
“Even though you’re at home, you’re still able to work during those times,” he said.
The schedule will divide students by the first letter of their last name. In a letter to parents, Joyce said using the alphabet instead of geography will reduce the number of students on the school bus and allow for more effective distancing.
School district business manager Greg Gaarder said the district is still working through the issue of students who lack a sufficient internet connection at home.
“One of the biggest challenges with technology is the equity piece,” Gaarder said. “It’s one thing to get email. It’s another for video contact. You’ve got to have those four bars to have that two-way video connection.”
In the letter to parents, Joyce said it’s the intention of the district to return to normal as soon as possible, although the block schedule will likely last all school year so that students can “consistently manage their course load.”
“It is our first preference to be able to engage and teach students face-to-face,” Joyce wrote.
Joyce told the board that last spring’s virtual classrooms were a learning experience for teachers and staff.
“We did have a dry run at this in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Students at the year-round Lemonweir Elementary School returned to class July 15 and are meeting five days per week. The district’s other elementary schools are expected to follow the same schedule when they open Sept. 1.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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