Plans for next school year are yet to be determined


Mike Halloran

The high school has been empty since schools closed for in-person classes on March 13. The question of whether students will return in the fall remains unanswered.

Discussions are underway regarding whether the district will return back to school next fall, and what that will look like.

At this point, there’s a lot of uncertainty. However, the district is working alongside the North Shore Health Department to determine what the safest and most realistic options are. 

“The guidance coming from the North Shore Health Department is largely going to be recommendations based on [the] number of people that we can safely have in a space together, and what the protocols are going to be for continued social distancing, and things like that,” said Tim Kenney, SHS principal. “Some of the challenges we’ll be going through is that if people are going to need to wear masks and gloves, and social distancing.”

The district has also created a school reopening workgroup, consisting of teachers, administrators, custodial staff, parents and community members. The workgroup will work on developing recommendations for reopening scenarios in two main areas: facilities, health and safety and teaching and learning activities. The recommendations will then be presented to the school board on August 11.

“We wanted to be able to cast a wide net for people to be able to participate, bringing those perspectives in our decision making process,” said Dr. Bryan Davis, superintendent. “There’s certainly guidance that we’re getting from national and state level on what protocols should be … but we’ll need to really define what that looks like in Shorewood and then specifically what does that look like at a high school level, an intermediate school level and then at the elementary levels.”

As of right now, there are no students in the workgroup. Davis plans on bringing students into the process further down the line.

“My thought was to be able to include students but we’d do it as kind of a second phase of the workgroup, [it’s] going to take a little bit of time for the adults to be able to orient themselves ” Davis said. “I’d like to be able to get student feedback when we’d have some scenarios set, to be able to bring in some students and say, ‘Alright, in these types of scenarios, what do you think?’”

Kenney and Davis both predict that by mid July, the district will have a way better idea of what next fall will look like. It will depend heavily on the number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin.

“With the protests, though in my opinion [they] are very positive, …people going out more, people going to family parties, to neighborhood parties, as that reintroduction happens, we’re just going to be monitoring the number of cases,” Davis said. “If we could just keep that under control …  then I think we’ll be in good shape. I think we’ll know pretty well by mid July, you’d be through the Memorial Day weekend mix, you’d be through the Fourth of July weekend mix.”

However, not knowing until at least the middle of the summer will affect teachers and their lesson planning. There are academic standards set by the state, but the methods teachers use to teach their students could vary. 

“I imagine as soon as we know what the plan is, then individuals, departments and schools will set up some structure to enable those conversations to take place,” said Susan Leslie, high school Spanish teacher. “I can foresee our department working to establish what worked, what didn’t work, and what a not quarantine blending learning would look like.”

As for sports and beginning of the year student events, such as homecoming, the district will be playing it by ear.

“Those are the things that will have to play out as we’re moving forward,” Davis said. “I would anticipate that if we’re at a point where we can open schools … that we would be able to have sporting events as we normally would, and we’d be able to do dances and that type of thing. If there’s restrictions on the number of people that can be in one assembly, for example if it’s 50 people or less, I’m not sure how we can necessarily come back to school in that environment.”

WIAA is planning on releasing some general guidelines, [but] then again it will be up to like individual schools or individual school districts,” Kenney said. “I’ll be very involved in conversations with the other Woodland Conference principals, LeVar Ridgeway, our athletic director or even having a lot of conversations with the other athletic directors with the conference. There are some sports medical officials … that are putting together, based on research that has been done already on COVID-19 transmissions, safe practices and scenarios for sports meets.”

Though the transition from in-person to virtual learning this spring was unexpected and abrupt, Kenney believes that it has allowed teachers to take advantage of the technology that’s out there. 

“I meet with teachers weekly, almost daily in some cases, and in conversations with them, they just expressed how much they have learned and how it’s changed the nature of how they’re going to run their classes moving forward, in really positive ways,” Kenney said. “Many teachers have gently been shoved in the 21st century, from a technology standpoint.”

According to Davis, it’s likely that there will be a virtual option offered for students next year, even if it’s safe to return to school. 

“I think that’s very realistic to expect [a virtual option], especially with some students with some underlying health issues,” Davis said. “But what exactly that looks like, we’re not quite sure.”

However, students and staff alike are hoping that the start of the school year won’t have to be online.

“It’s the human side, the personal touch, the intangibles if you will, that makes education such a meaningful experience,” Kenney said.

One concern that Leslie has about having to start off the year online is teachers getting to know their new students, and vise versa. 

“How do I establish myself as a teacher and understand them as individual learners,” Leslie said. “How do you establish that group dynamic from the comfort of your bedroom or your living room, or wherever you’re recording.”

Jack Stuhlmacher, junior and school board student representative, thinks adjustments from this spring will have to be made if it comes to virtual learning next fall. 

“Kids aren’t going to be as motivated and hold themselves accountable with virtual school,” Stuhlmacher said. “I think we need those engaging activities and those engaging classroom opportunities, and somehow make them virtual.”