Will there be in-person school this fall?

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“If you don’t hear me say anything, I hope you hear me say this tonight,” stated Dr. Steve Salerno to the school board on Monday, May 18. “We are ready for kids to come to school on September 1. That’s the first day that we’re permitted to, by law, and of course we want our school to resume full-time in our buildings; however if there are limitations on our ability to do that - especially in the interest of the safety of our children and our dear staff - we are working to develop a contingency plan. We want - and in fact, we need – your input as to what that looks like.”

It was the latest in a series of updates and conversations at the school board level about what education in Mount Horeb will look like in the coming days, weeks, months, and maybe even years. 

Salerno told the board local educators are working on plans for a “blended program” if needed, and they will be gathering input from community members and the board about what shape it would take. 

“I’m interested in exploring an avenue that offers interested families a virtual synchronous experience, which means a live kind of experience,” he said. “We know there are a number of families who are interested in this, and we believe that we can hopefully make both tracks work, provided that the Madison Public Health Madison and Dane County order remains in effect as of September 1.”

“I am assembling a team of staff and leaders who have a penchant for being solutions-oriented and we intend to follow the same school calendar that you see on our district’s website,” Salerno stated. “If we do have a hybrid system in place, … obviously it stands to reason that calendar may be subject to change. It’s too soon yet to talk about what that hybrid system could look like because we really do truly want to find out how many people would be impacted by this and your assistance in completing [a] survey will be most helpful.”

Board president Rod Hise added that he hopes the board, which has been meeting virtually for nearly two months now, can begin meeting in person again soon. 

“Parenthetically, I think it is obviously we’re meeting as a group virtually tonight again and I think you know it’s my desire, I can’t speak for all of you of course, but it’s my desire to bring us back together as a group in person when it makes sense,” Hise said. “And making sense means a lot of different things these days, but we want to do that when we can be safe and healthy.”

“We don’t thoroughly understand the order that was issued by the Dane County public health officials today,” he continued. “We’ll do some digging into that document and in that may inform our judgment but, obviously we want to get back together as a group, but we only want to do that when it would make sense.”

Salerno also touched on legal questions about the status of stay-at-home orders following the recent supreme court ruling which overturned an order issues by state secretary Andrea Palm. 

“[D]espite the Supreme Court’s overturning of the safer at home order, … the closure of our schools through June 30 remains fully in effect [and] … this morning the Public Health of Madison and Dane County has further cemented this [as] they issued a new order that will remain [in effect] until Public Health Madison-Dane County determines that criteria to implement phase 1 has been achieved.” (Turn to page 5 of this edition to learn more about the state of phase 1.)

Director of student services Brian Johnson also provided information to the board, including about school safety and security initiatives. Johnson said the district is focusing on “improving the practices and policies related to school safety and then also improving confidence and knowledge around school.”

“We’re really always looking at our policies, looking at our practices, looking at our drills that we’re using and do with kids and staff and how we’re teaching what we’re doing and the policies that we’re promoting as well,” he said. 

Johnson added that two years ago the district overhauled its safety plan to focus on “critical incidents.” Johnson defined a critical incident as one of several things, ranging from an active shooter to a bomb threat or a fire or a chemical spill in a lab. 

“As a district we always practice fire drills, we’ve been doing that for years, we’ve for years been practicing tornado drills and …  we’ve really morphed those drills so you don’t do a fire drill every month; we do an evacuation drill.”

Johnson also detailed “barricading” drills that take place in local schools.

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