BELOIT — While some parents are disappointed in the School District of Beloit Board of Education’s decision to start the school year with virtual learning, others said it gives the district the time needed to ensure everyone stays safe.
The board’s decision on Tuesday follows other Rock County schools announcing fall in-person classes, or an option for virtual learning. Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) Catholic School and St. John’s Lutheran School have announced they will offer in-person learning options. Rock County Christian School will release reopening details on Aug. 4.
The Beloit Turner School District is moving forward with plans to reopen school with the option for in-person classes this fall, with safety measures in place and remaining flexible in case staff has to move to online instruction.
On Wednesday morning following the Beloit school board’s decision, OLA had already received multiple inquiries from parents interested in enrolling their students. OLA Principal Trevor Seivert said the school has created a wait list for several of its classes because it wants to ensure the health, safety and welfare of current students, staff and families.
School District of Beloit Board of Education President Kyle Larsen said after the first quarter, Interim Superintendent Dan Keyser would make a recommendation on whether or not to have in-person learning using a reopening model he presented at Tuesday’s meeting. The Daily News reported in its print edition the final decision would be made on Aug. 14, as Keyser’s presentation was still underway at press time. The online story has since been updated to reflect the school board’s vote that school will be virtual for the first nine weeks of this school year.
Larsen said it’s possible some families may take their children elsewhere following the decision, but said the board felt nine weeks of virtual learning was the most safe and stable plan. Larsen said there is no ideal solution at this time. While some other smaller districts may be having in-person learning, Larsen said Beloit has more considerations given its large student population.
“We didn’t want to open, have an outbreak and then have to transition. This gives our staff the opportunity to dig in and be trained on distance learning so it’s not an emergency learning situation,” Larsen said. “It also gives staff more time to evaluate their buildings and prepare for students coming back.”
Larsen said the district is exploring having small numbers of students be on campus such as those with individual education plans or those needing physical therapy.
Parents and guardians has mixed reactions to the board’s decision.
Angie Lannon, a parent of two Aldrich students, said the district needs the extra time to ensure safety and proper ventilation in the buildings. She said she understands working parents’ frustrations and the need for students to have learning and social development.
“I understand it’s hard, but we did it before and I believe we can do it again,” she said. “It’s important to be in school, but at what cost?”
This time, Lannon said, virtual learning will have the benefit of better planning.
Mom and former school board member Tia Johnson said she had concerns about her high school age son being in a building that is lacking air conditioning in some areas and the potential for kids to be sitting around in poorly ventilated and hot spaces. Requiring students to wear masks could result in students taking them off in a hot atmosphere.
“This gives us a little more time to assess the situation and hopefully instead of having COVID-19 numbers on the rise, we will have numbers on the decline,” Johnson said.
However, Tami Robson, a grandmother raising her 5-year-old granddaughter, said she was going to look into private school. Robson, who works in childcare, is preparing for a new job at Amazon.
Robson said she has been doing online learning since March with her granddaughter on her cell phone. She taught her some phonics and spelling, but didn’t get much further.
“I’m not a certified teacher, and I don’t have education on how to keep her motivated,” she said.
While online might work for older students, she said it wasn’t realistic for students in their formative years such as kindergarten with a guardian working full-time.
Robson also questioned why the school district can’t open when daycares, the Boys & Girls Club and other programming have reopened.
“Honestly, I’m mad. I know other schools are opening with guidelines,” said Trish Bliss, a mother of a 4, 6 and 8-year-old. “I have to work and I can’t sit there all day to get them to do their work.”
Bliss, who works in healthcare, paid for a private babysitter over the summer as the daycares were full. She is looking into other private schools her children might be able to attend in person.
“I’m not sure parents are going to be able to work and to do school online,” she said.
Bliss said she tried to do online learning with her children but it didn’t go well.
“It was very hard to get all the work in and get them to sit and do the work at home,” she said. “They need the structure and interaction with teachers and other students.”