MFL MarMac virtual Wednesdays will continue through February

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District will transition to full in-person learning in March

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

MFL MarMac will continue its hybrid learning model—in-person classes Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday with virtual learning on Wednesdays—through the end of February, before slowly transitioning to in-person instruction five days per week. The school board gave the go-ahead at its Jan. 11 meeting, based on the recommendation of superintendent Dale Crozier.

“What I’ve noticed is what we’re doing is working,” Crozier told the board. “Or something we’re doing is working.”

At the time of the meeting, MFL MarMac had 21 total absences, or an absence rate of 2.55 percent.

“2.55 percent of our students for the second week in January. We’ve had 50 gone in just the elementary before,” Crozier noted. “That’s total absences, and the COVID absences are less than that.”

The virtual Wednesdays have provided time to clean the school buildings, he added, and “we’re never here as a mass school more than two days at any one time.”

As a result, the mitigation strategies are stopping the flu and other illnesses as well.

Staff absentee rates have also been low, said Crozier.

“We’ve had 158 total sick days used. I know, because I meet with other schools every week, that is super low. That’s about $20,000 of our COVID leave we paid for sick leave,” he explained. “I know schools our size who said, ‘We just spent $145,000 on sick leave, we just spent $60,000 on sick leave.’ That says to me that our staff’s not abusing it. It says that what we’re doing is working.”

The situation should improve further with the COVID-19 vaccine. Crozier said the department of public health has told him the vaccination process for the district’s staff should start by mid-February. He had no further details on how it would be rolled out, though.

Crozier acknowledged that some schools in the area have had success with in-person instruction five days per week.

“And then there are schools that go five days a week that have had some real barriers. We haven’t had those,” he said.

The virtual Wednesdays have, admittedly, required an adjustment.

“I know there’s COVID fatigue. I know that to continue the virtual Wednesdays through February is going to be unpopular with the majority of our community,” Crozier said, “and I’m willing to carry all of that. If people want to blame someone, they can blame me. That’s fine.”

Extending them would be “for the betterment of our students and the whole,” he added. “And I think the majority of our staff appreciate the time they have to prepare for their virtual learners and their on-site learners at the same time.”

Come March, MFL MarMac will transition away from virtual Wednesdays. But Crozier doesn’t want to move too quickly. Per the school calendar, Wednesdays in March already have one-hour early outs for staff professional development. He proposed increasing that to two-hour early outs for at least part of the month—time which would have to made up at some point.

“That planning time is going to still matter. That extra hour is 100 percent for teacher preparation, to make the transition back to five days a week,” he said. “I want to go five days a week too. But, I think, if we taper out of it rather than jump out of it, we’ll have better participation. I want to go slow and deliberate with a plan.”

After March, the district could choose to continue with the regularly-scheduled, one-hour early outs on Wednesdays, or do something different. Board members noted it is too soon to make a decision.

“You shouldn’t look much further than [February],” said Jonathon Moser.

“It’s a week by week thing,” agreed Josh Grau. “We could have something happen.”

Even when the district moves back into five days per week of  in-person instruction, Crozier said students will still have the option of learning all-virtual if they don’t feel comfortable returning to the classroom. Although some returned to the school building after winter break, staff noted around 10 students remain learning from home full time.

COVID leave won’t count against sick leave

In another COVID-19 related item on the agenda, the board approved extending the provision of the CARE Act that kept COVID leave or quarantine time from counting against sick leave. The provision had expired on Dec. 31.

Without it, said Crozier, “If you’re a first-year teacher or first-year paraprofessional and have to use all your sick days for COVID, then you have an appendicitis attack and have to miss another 15 days, that’s going to be unpaid leave. We could do it, but it just doesn’t seem right to me. We extend it through March 31 and probably through the rest of the school year so those people that need to be quarantined get the same treatment as people before Dec. 31. We pay it anyway.”

Staffing changes approved

Several staffing changes were approved at the meeting. The board accepted the resignations of Jennifer Henkels in food service and Eliza Philpott as assistant track coach, pending a suitable replacement. A custodial contract was approved for Larry Kugel, a teaching contract for Lynn Jones and head softball coach contract for Jennifer Pintz.

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