UPDATE: Wausau School Board tables discussion on a recommendation for the hybrid model, discussion resumes Sept. 28

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 6:08 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wausau school board met Monday for the first time since classes began for the 2020-2021 school year. The school board reviewed the district’s plans for students. Its superintendent, Keith Hilts, recommended the board move to the Plan B hybrid model of learning.

The meeting ended up with no-decision after several motions ended up failing in a 4-4 vote. Superintendent Hilts' motion was not voted on during the meeting but instead was tabled for a meeting on September 28. The boards' decision to table the discussion was to hear more information from the administration on COVID-19 number across the district.

The meeting on September 28 will be held at the Wausau West high school auditorium to help promote social distancing and will include three different meetings. There will be an Ed Ops meeting, a special meeting to talk about the schools reopening and to fill a vacant seat, and the annual meeting. The meetings will all be held back to back, and could start earlier since the discussion on the modality of students' learning has lasted so long in past meetings.

Hilts and other administrators were not available for interviews ahead or after the meeting, but Hilts' motion outlines his reasoning for the recommendation. He cited the trend in positive COVID-19 cases around the state is on the decline and Marathon County’s rate is lower than in other areas. While the district has four cases, he said other districts that have more in-person contact “have not experienced a significant increase in the number of COVID (sic) cases.” Anecdotally, he said some families are really struggling with the full virtual model, while at the same time he cites a “significant number of families” do not want to return in person yet.

If the board would vote to pivot to the hybrid model, families will have a choice to remain completely virtual. For those who would choose to come back in-person, half of the school would be in-person one week with the other half remaining virtual and then switching the next week. So, for example, families with the last name A-L will be in school while M-Z is online and then the students would switch every other week.

Teachers would use webcams and smartboards to teach students in-person and virtually at the same time when applicable and then using the online resources for learning that cannot be done in that method. Teachers will still have Fridays to plan and prepare lessons and do professional development.

If the board approves to go to Plan B, it will take about two weeks for the district to figure out which students are coming in-person and finalize the plans and resources needed to implement that, including letting bus drivers plan and run routes. The district will review the final plans Sept. 28 to determine if they are fully prepared to implement the plan, meaning the hybrid model would start no sooner than Oct. 5.

NewsChannel 7 has reached out to the teachers union to get thoughts about the potential to change plans but did not hear back.

Dozens of parents and some students who have pushed back against the virtual model showed up to the meeting to also push back against the hybrid model.

“We’re advocating that at least for elementary, probably k-8 that they go back full time. junior high, senior high they can certainly, they have a better attention span they can certainly manage that week on week off and pay attention to their teachers and navigate that virtual learning platform,” Wausau resident Jon Creisher said.

Several public comments also showed support to remain virtual.

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