BELOIT — Beloit School District Board of Education President Kyle Larsen resigned after the board heard more than three-and-a-half hours of public comment regarding the pros and cons of returning to in-person learning on Tuesday night.
The board had not voted whether to approve interim Superintendent Dan Keyser’s proposed hybrid model of student instruction as of press time Tuesday. The meeting started at 7 p.m. and the board was still hearing public comments via email at 10:45 p.m. The Daily News heard a tip that Larsen had left the meeting and possibly resigned. When contacted by the Daily News, Larsen said he sent board members an email informing them that he was resigning. He declined further comment.
In July, the board voted to have virtual/distance learning for the first quarter of the school year, later extended to Jan. 22. Under Keyser’s proposed hybrid model, students would be split into a group A which would come to school in the first half of week, with Wednesday remaining a professional development day. Group B would come in the second half of the week. Families would have the option of remaining in virtual learning.
According to families surveyed by the district, if schools had an in person option 62% of families would send their children to school, 31% would keep them in distance learning and 7% would keep some of the kids at home and send others to school, according to online board documents.
The public comment portion of the meeting kicked off with 8-year-old Kendall Shellenberger: “I’m unmotivated, unsocialized and stressed out. Hopefully you can make entrance to school not a dream, but a reality. Hopefully all of you make the right decision tonight. Thanks for having me.”
Kelly Clobes said other districts have figured out how to do in-person learning. Kids aren’t learning what they need to learn online and she said she has concerns about so much screen time.
Heidi Anderson said school can be the only safe haven for some kids. She asked what is happening to children already at a disadvantage and if they have a parent to help. She said it’s been almost a year. She said kids can go to water parks and Walmart but not school.
“We might have to go virtual here and there but at least they are in class learning,” she said.
Other parents and grandparents said children are going to fall further behind and are suffering emotionally and districts much larger than Beloit, and even districts in other countries, are open. Some said enough is known to open safely.
Beloit Education Association (BEA) President Tim Vedra said distance learning has allowed for instruction to be delivered effectively and safely, and the vast majority of students are engaged. Setting an arbitrary return date doesn’t take into account the new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 and the high rates of virus in Rock County and how it could strain hospital capacity. With the vaccine available to educators in the coming weeks, distance learning makes sense to continue until staff who opt for it can be fully vaccinated. He added schools lack the necessary staffing to complete sanitation and do adequate contact tracing.
School social worker Whitney Klein said there are no guidelines about how to do de-escalation with children and other unanswered questions for staff. Working with children as young as 4-years-old, she questioned how safety measures such as wearing masks would be enforced.
One woman said her grandma was in the home with Hospice service after contacting COVID-19. She said kids sending back to the buildings with so many family members at home with health conditions could put more people at risk.
Teacher Alicia Wash said teachers have not been equipped and trained to do in person and online learning simultaneously and given no professional development on how to navigate the hybrid model.
Other teachers said they have not been given adequate details of the plan to reopen safely.
Others spoke how districts which have in-person learning have kids in and out of school.