Osceola School District superintendent Mark Luebker updated the Osceola School board concerning the COVID-19 pandemic at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 20.
Luebker ran through a brief history of what the district has dealt with and outlined where it was going in the future.
“I can recall vividly on March 9 at about 5 o’clock when I received a call from Polk County Department of Health regarding the Destination Imagination event in Osceola and that a visitor from Pierce County had tested positive for COVID-19,” he said. “Little did we know Osceola schools would be the first schools in the state to need to close due to the COVID virus.”
The district implemented distance learning in early April, and while the process has gone well, Luebker said a major lesson of the pandemic has been that nothing can equal in-person classroom instruction.
“Many of us — students, staff and parents —realize that virtual education will never take the place of having teachers in front of kids,” he said.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Evers safer-at-home order on May 13, but their decision did not rule specifically on schools.
“That means we’re still required to remain closed for pupil instruction and extra curricular activities through June 30,” Luebker said. “There were a couple of notes in the supreme court ruling that said the authority to close schools after June 30 remains with the Department of Health Services.”
Luebker used an acronym coined by the US military during the Cold War to describe the situation the district has faced in recent months and will continue to face well into 2020: V.U.C.A. stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Both indoor and outdoor facilities will remain closed through June 30, but Luebker said the district is looking at options for reopening in July and August.
“Once we get some more clarity with that we will hopefully open up processes within the school for use of our facilities,” he said.
Food delivery will continue through May 29, after which the district will switch to a pickup option on Wednesdays in June.
Graduation will take place on July 16, but the district is still not sure if it will be an in person ceremony or a virtual gathering.
“If no other rulings are made, we will need this to be a virtual graduation,” Luebker said. “However, with the Supreme Court ruling and some opportunities, it might allow us to have a larger graduation. That would be our hope, to provide something as normal as possible.”
The district also isn’t quite sure what the start of the 2020-21 school year will look like. Should in-person classes resume, the district will implement health check procedures and update some facilities in their buildings, like all touch-less faucets, to ensure students and staff can remain as safe as possible.
The district is also preparing for the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 to affect the school calendar in the fall.
“We’re exploring the potential of what that may look like for us,” Luebker said. “With the opportunity for us to possibly start a little earlier in August.”
Luebker said there are three scenarios for the upcoming year. The district could have normal face-to-face education, a blended approach with some in-person and some virtual instruction, or an entirely virtual system. They’re planning for all three scenarios, and Luebker said the district is doing its best to navigate a new world.
“This is an uncharted time, everyone is working hard,” he said. “And there’s even more hard work to be done as we go forward.”