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Granton dealing with COVID-caused year-end school issues

With school buildings closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to COVID-19, area districts are trying to figure out how to tie up loose ends left by their abrupt closings. Meeting in a special session on April 22, the Granton School Board discussed several items related to the issue in an attempt to come up with a plan on how to end the year.

Sitting in the school’s gymnasium according to social distancing guidelines, the Board discussed issues related to immediate concerns such as grading for the last quarter and semester of the school year and concerns about upcoming events like graduation and summer school. While the Board was eager to come up with a plan coming into the meeting, uncertainty around how Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed “Badger Bounce Back” plan will be implemented in the coming months made it difficult for the Board to find concrete answers to its future problems. “It also depends on what stage we’re in in the Badger Bounce Back plan and how that’s extended out,” said district superintendent Scott Woodington. “Summer school could be face to face, it could be limited to nine or less in a room, it depends on what phase we’re in at the time. We’re trying to plan for that but we don’t have a full plan.” Since schools were closed, Woodington said the schools have been getting information that has been updated and clarified on a regular basis. According to their most recent update, he said they were informed that the order closing schools “until the end of the school year” means June 30, the official end of the fiscal year, instead of May 29 when the last day of class was to be held at Granton.

“Officially, our stay goes through the end of June,” he said. “That’s the statuary end of the school year even though it would have ended on the 29th of May. The end of the year is June 30.”

The clarification of the order by the state complicated action by the Board at the local level. Since no activities can be held at the school or on the school grounds until July 1, Woodington said the district would have to look at either postponing events such as graduation or summer school or holding virtual events through the month of June.

“The only thing we can do right now for summer school is virtual classes,” he said. “They have grades 7-12 that can be taken online, but we can’t do elementary classes. We had those always taking place in-house. It is a possibility, we haven’t gotten final approval, to allow schools to do virtual summer school through June 30. After July 1, we can go back to regular summer school.”

Beyond June, there are still questions on how social gatherings will be handled, Woodington said. Looking at the Badger Bounce Back Plan, he said there are three phases that must be implemented in order for things to return to normal. But just how each phase will be put into effect and how long each phase will last is unknown.

“Phase one, there’s 10 maximum in a room, phase two, 50 maximum in a room and phase three there’s no limit,” he said. “I’m expecting we’re going to be beyond phase one and two by July. If things look good, the governor could change the order (that keeps schools closed through June 30).”

Because of the uncertainty involved with planning for the school’s future events, the Board decided to wait for a few more weeks before it makes a decision on what day to hold graduation, in the hopes the school could hold an in-person event in June if the order is lifted. The Fourth of July was also offered as a date if the order remained through June 30.

“From what I’ve heard, people would like some inperson ceremony sometime,” said Board member Paul Knoff. “It doesn’t pay to say July 25 when you can come back in June.”

“We hope to have something as soon as its legal,” added Board treasurer John Richmond.

The Board also decided to speak to the school staff that were originally planning to teach summer school classes to see if there was an interest to hold those classes in July or August along with swimming lessons. If there wasn’t an interest in doing it then, Board president Theresa Hasz said they would then look at virtual classes as an option.

“Virtual is on the back burner,” she said. “If we can, we can get staff to do it in July or August, if not then it’s back to virtual in June.”

Grading for the last quarter of the school year was also discussed. Middle/high school principal Amanda Kraus said they put together a three-option grading plan for students in the upper grades to accommodate for issues faced by the students learning in an entirely virtual environment.

“We decided to give students three options,” she said. “The first option is that they can take a letter grade. This is for our high flyers, focusing on their GPAs. It will not go away, if they are successful, they can choose to take the letter grade. Option two, they can get a pass. If they get 60 percent or above D minus, they pass. It doesn’t affect their GPA. This can be used by kids that are struggling like with technology issues. The third option is that they take no credit. Mark it as COVID and they’re not penalized credit-wise. If they’re not successful, they take no credit. It will not show up as an F and they can retake it later. It gives flexibility for students.”

In addition to giving the students some flexibility with their grades in the final quarter, the Board asked Kraus if there were going to be options for students at the end of the year to make up for struggling grades. Kraus said the last school assignments are going to be sent out to students on May 11, with virtual credit recovery becoming available for students after that.

“We can have virtual credit recovery for grades 9-12, where they have to have a certain percentage to pass,” she said. “That will be done virtually in June.”

The Board agreed with the proposed grading option plan for the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year and decided to change grading for the last semester of the school year to put a bit more value on assignments completed in the third quarter when school was still held in-person. The Board also asked that a similar grading option be offered to children in the elementary grades.