The Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education on Wednesday night gave approval to preliminary plans to welcome some students back into school buildings this fall by approving Winhawk Learning Model No. 3 — which is a hybrid model for all students.
In a hybrid learning model, all students in Grades K-12 will be assigned to one of two groups. Group A will attend in-person on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B will attend Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a day for further cleaning and disinfecting of school buildings.
When students are not in the school buildings, they will engage with their teachers and classmates through distance learning.
Preschool programs are already set up to run in a hybrid model, so there will be no changes to their schedule.
Families will have the option to choose distance learning for their student(s) at any point during the school year for any reason. Free child care will be provided for the children of Tier 1 emergency workers on the distance learning days in the hybrid model.
“We are thrilled at the prospect of welcoming our wonderful students back into our buildings this fall,” Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit said. “We know the uncertainty of the 2020-21 school year has weighed heavily on the minds of many families in our district, and we appreciate the patience, the support and the empathy of our families this summer and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a survey of district families earlier this summer, more than 70 percent indicated they would choose a learning model that offered at least some in-person schooling, while a little more than 20 percent indicated they would prefer to remain in distance learning. Nearly 80 percent of families said they were at least somewhat comfortable sending their student(s) back to school.
The learning models were recommended based on parameters developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education, released last week by Gov. Tim Walz as part of the Safe Learning Plan, a localized, data-driven approach that all districts in the state will follow during the 2020-21 school year.
Using guidance from the Safe Learning Plan, as well as input from staff, students and district families, the Winona Area Public Schools district leadership team briefed the board on the progress it made on the WAPS Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 school year.
The plan prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff, recognizes the importance of in-person learning opportunities — especially for our younger learners — and emphasizes stability of instruction delivery no matter the learning model in use.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks and self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Physical distancing will be strictly enforced in a hybrid model.
Although WAPS intends to begin the school year in a hybrid, the levels of the pandemic could force a change. WAPS will work closely with experts from MDE and MDH, as well as the Southeast Service Cooperative and local public health officials to decide if and when it needs to shift to a different learning model due to the progression of the virus in the Winona community.
“As much as we wish we could choose one model for the entire school year, we know that’s not likely given the unpredictable nature of this pandemic,” Freiheit said. “Our staff has worked, and will work, tremendously hard to reduce as many disruptions as possible if we need to shift from one model to another.”
Families will be asked to opt-in for distance learning for the student(s) in their family next week by filling out a survey to be sent next week.
Distance learning will be an improved experience from the spring, with required attendance and increased accountability.
Freiheit said more details about the WAPS Safe Learning Plan will be announced in the next few weeks. Updates will be posted on the Fall 2020 Planning Updates page on winonaschools.org.