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Rib Lake schools look at options for opening safely

For the past several months, the Rib Lake School Board has been putting a massive amount of their energy in figuring out how to safely reopen for the upcoming school year. “The fact is, I think, everyone believes that the very best [learning environment] for students is in school,” said district administrator Rick Cardey. “Our hope is that with our plan and with conditions, we’re going to return. So that’s kind of where our focus is.”

The board believes that with Rib Lake’s small population and school enrollment numbers, they have an advantage over large metropolitan school districts when it comes to social distancing.

They are formulating their plan with help from Taylor County Health Department, along with guidelines put out by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. They’ve also been ordering disinfecting materials over the past six weeks, including disposable wipes and hand sanitizer.

Although Rib Lake is planning on opening up for in-school classes, they’re considering ways to offer at-home education options to families who don’t wish to return to school.

“We want to make sure we serve all our students,” said Cardey. “The picture is clearer than it was a week ago, but it’s still a moving object and things are changing daily... We would have a hard time saying what fall will look like as of right now.”

“Personally, I would love to see us come back to school, I would love to see the kids,” said board president Steve Martin, voicing his support of opening with increased safety measures, and agreeing an at-home option should be made available too. “We need to have that even as a backup plan, just incase. I mean, look how fast we got [shutdown] the first time around here, pretty much without warning.”

Martin also brought up the financial side of the situation for parents, asking whether it’s monetarily feasible for some families to relegate one parent to stay home from work and forego an income to take care of all their child’s learning needs.

With openings ensuing, the status of student athletics is still up in the air, with Cardey saying there’s no realistic road map to continuing sports at this time. The board agreed to meet on July 28 to further discuss that one specific topic, with hopes they can hash out a proper athletics plan.

One of the major difficulties is that Rib Lake co-ops with Prentice school district for their football teams: the schools are located in two separate counties, meaning they’ll be operating on different county guidelines and safety regulations. Rib Lake district athletic director Mike Wudi is tentatively looking at setting up a meeting with Prentice administration and coaches, as well as seeking feedback from both Taylor and Price county health officials.

July is when football teams have a “team camp,” and Wudi is seeing if it’s at all possible this year, along with what fall and preseason interactions will look like.

“It’s all new territory,” commented Cardey. “But the first step is getting key administration together [from all sides] and saying, ‘if we’re doing this, what does it look like.’” Wudi noted that as of July 1 Rib Lake was able to open up some of their facilities for use, but they’ve abstained from doing so thus far. He proposed a “cautious, gradual reopening” of a few select facilities, pointing out that some district’s school facilities are already fully open. While leagues involving people who come in from across the state would stay shutdown for now, Wudi suggested small-scale openings.

“Kids have been away from physical activity, the fitness center, conditioning and fundamental skills, things like that for a long time,” said Wudi. “I’d like to get them back with their coaches to get working on that.”

Coaches will have to be brought up to speed on proper cleanliness procedures, as will students. Athletes will be instructed to bring in their own water bottles and be unable to share equipment, while coaches will have to make sure students are properly disinfecting any school property after they’re done using it.

“I would like to be able to say to our coaches, [if they choose to they could start] bringing some kids into the fitness center to work out, running a little bit of an open gym, basketball, volleyball, something like that; can we pull off the football team camp,” said Wudi.

Self-screening for illness will be the most reliable way of making sure the virus doesn’t spread amongst students, especially close-contact athletes, with the entire board emphasizing that no one should dare to come to school if they’re feeling symptomatic.

“If you aren’t feeling well you better stay away,” Wudi warned potentially infected individuals.

Grading and Handbook Changes

School policies are changing in regards to grades and classes. The board continues to plan out the implementation of standards based grading in the elementary school.

Truancy rules were changed so they will be tracked by days missed rather than classes, with high school principal Kirsten Budimlija explaining that parttime students were able to be absent 80 days of class before they were considered truant. Now if a part-time student skips their single class it will be counted as an entire day missed rather than one class, making them truant at a quicker rate.

In addition, the district is shifting the financial accountability of failed collegetype classes to students. If the student goes through their class as normal the school will pay for it, but if they decide to drop out of the class the student will have to pay for it. Additionally, if a student is taking a paid credit-recovery class, the student will now have to pay the cost if they fail the course, while the school will pay if they pass.

For athletics, progress reports will be used to check athletes grades more regularly. Previously at the high school, grades were only checked once a semester, and if the student didn’t have any failing grades at that time they were eligible for sports spanning the entire quarter. Now that their grades will be checked more regularly, if at any time they have a failing grade they will be considered academically ineligible for athletic participation for 15 days.

Rule violations for athletics were updated as well, making repercussions more immediate. Their first violation will have an athlete suspended for 20% of the season, a second will be 50% of the season, a third will bar sports participation for 12 consecutive months, and four will remove them from sports eligibility for the entirety of their high school career. What defined a violation unbecoming of an athlete was expanded too, with many more examples added to their list of unacceptable actions and clarifying the previous rules. They said if a student is honest and self-reports their violation the school will go easier on them.

The district also changed a small portion of the student handbook making it against the rules for students to carry a hat around indoors, with Budimlija noting they would simply take it off their head and carry it in their hands while passing teachers, and then put it back on once they turned the corner. They also ruled that students can’t carry around blankets.