Students in the Madison School District will see an additional 90 to 120 minutes of online-only learning tacked on to each Monday until June 6 to make up lost learning time during the extended winter break.
In January, the district extended its winter break by three days due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Dane County fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The surge led to staffing shortages at many schools and severely limited the availability of COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment, forcing students to remain home for the first three days after classes were due to resume, with a return to online-only learning on Thursday and Friday of that week. The sudden about-face angered many parents, who had to find last-minute child care arrangements or give up a week’s worth of wages.
The district appealed to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to waive the three missed days, but DPI rejected the request.
In order to avoid extending the school year three days and also meet state requirements for the number of hours of instruction, the district will require students in grades K-12 to learn online for 90 to 120 additional minutes each Monday after early release from April 25 through June 6. May 27, previously scheduled as a staff professional development day, will be a full day of online-only student learning.
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In a letter explaining its decision, DPI determined the district had enough time before the end of the school year to adjust the school calendar to make up for the three days lost in January. Four other school districts in Wisconsin had requested similar waivers from DPI for the 2021-22 school year. Three of those four were also denied, and the last is still under review.
The district is working with after-school programs to ensure they are able to support students’ additional online learning time on Mondays, and it is working with libraries and other community partners to provide learning supports for students who need learning assistance on May 27, the full online-learning day, Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said in an email sent to families and staff on Wednesday.
Lessons and coursework will be prepared ahead of time and will be available in the district’s online learning apps, Seesaw and Google Classroom, along with paper copies of the learning materials. Coursework for elementary and middle school students will encompass literacy and mathematics, while high school students will focus on college and career readiness, Jenkins said.
Those lessons and coursework are to be worked on independently by students and may take the form of an online reading program, reading assignments with questions to answer or ACT prep for high schoolers, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said.
Families can expect more information from their students’ schools with additional details about the make-up time, he said.
Jackie Douglas, a full-time working parent of a Hawthorne Elementary student, said she is frustrated with the district’s decision-making on the matter.
She regularly has three or four students from her neighborhood come over to her house after school each day for supervision before their parents return from work. Now she’s anticipating acting as a teacher for those students during the 1½ to 2 hours of online learning.
“I do not have a degree in teaching, and teachers do a great job,” she said. “My kid is fed up with me and doesn’t want me to be her teacher anymore.”
School Board President Ali Muldrow said the board discussed the waiver sent to DPI during the board’s regular meeting in February.
“We knew when we were requesting a waiver that that waiver could be denied and we also know that if the waiver is denied then you have to make up the minutes,” Muldrow said. “I was aware this was a possibility and that navigating it through asynchronous learning was one of the best options we had.”
As a parent of three children, Muldrow said she sympathized with families who felt the decision had come out of the blue.
“It’s hard for me to keep track of when my kids have parent-teacher conferences let alone how many minutes are missing from their school year,” she said. “It’s been a challenging couple of years, and I think people want stability and normalcy so much.”
Mike Jones, president of local teachers union Madison Teachers Inc., faulted DPI for its “last minute” conveyance of the waiver rejection, which was sent to the district by letter on Tuesday.
“Why offer a waiver if you’re going to reject all of them anyways?” he said. “And why do it in late April when we’re seven weeks away from finishing an already traumatic year?”