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Guides issued for fall classes

Area schools are trying to prepare for reopening school this fall amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, and new guidelines could give them a greater sense of their options.

How education is delivered to more than a million Wisconsin students in the upcoming school year likely will look quite different than what used to be the norm: For one, it may well be a mix of in-person and online learning.

What the norm might be now during this time of COVID-19 is outlined in a newly released 87-page school reopening guideline from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction called "Education Forward" that covers the learning environment, scheduling, instruction models, school operations, health and safety, libraries, special education, English learners, gifted and talented, and programs beyond the school day.

Multitudes of changes will need to be made, from the ubiquitous social distancing and sanitizing to how meals are provided, students are transported, and achievements are celebrated.

"There will be students who are not able to return to school due to health concerns and students and staff who may be quarantined due to exposure," State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said in the preamble. "This means every school district will need

to plan for both school operations on campus and remote learning."

With so many variables among the 421 school districts, 26 independent charter schools, and 792 private schools, the guidelines said the recommendations "should be used as a starting point to be modified in collaboration with all stakeholders to fit each system's unique student population and needs."

Four of the possible scenarios for modifying scheduling include the following, with each of them allowing one day set aside for teachers plan or do professional learning. Some classes would be kept to a 10-1 student/teacher ratio, such as special education or gifted and talented, and resource teachers working with small groups.

• Four-day week – For four days, students would report to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations. On the fifth day, learning would be done virtually while the school is deep-cleaned.

• Two-day rotation – Students would be in class for two days and would learn virtually on the other days.

• A/B Week Rotation – Half the students would report to class for the week (four days) while the other half learns virtually.

• Elementary face-to-face and secondary virtual – Elementary students would attend school for four days a week, spread out among the elementary and middle school buildings, while the older students would learn virtually.

The guidelines are premised on several potential conditions: a vaccine not being available for one to 1 1/2 years, the potential of another wave of COVID-19, children and staff who have significant health issues being vulnerable, short-term school closures being possible, frequent cleaning and disinfection continuing, communication becoming especially critical, and "fear, loss, and isolation" requiring more mental health support.

Woven through the guidelines are threads of supporting the well-being of families, staff, and communities, and ensuring an equitable education for all students.


Schools develop plans for reopening in the fall

Local schools have been working on plans for how the school year will look when classes begin in the fall, and now they are evaluating how to incorporate the Department of Public Instruction guidelines released this week.


Birchwood School is getting a preview of what teaching and learning could look like this fall: Summer school will open on July 13 for grades 7-12.

The school had put a series of plans in place that were developed with a team of people and input from the Washburn County Health.

"We did survey our parents about the summer school and about this fall, and most that surveyed are planning on sending their child/children back in the fall," said Superintendent Diane Johnson. "Our next step is focusing on what the fall plans might look like."

The school will analyze the Department of Public Instruction guidelines released this week and create another team to compile information for parents, students, and staff, Johnson said.


Northwood School will be looking at the guidelines very closely, the school said on its Facebook page on Monday.

"There is also a small group of parents, community members, and school employees from different areas of the building (Administration, Teachers, Food Service, Safety Coordinators, School Board Member, etc.) that are working on a responsive plan for

reopening our school for next school year," the Facebook post said.

Shell Lake

"We have been fortunate that it [COVID-19] has not hit our area like it has some of the more metropolitan areas in the state," said Superintendent Dave Bridenhagen.

He said a survey will be coming out shortly asking for input on the startup of school. The survey is designed to identify what is important to them and what concerns they may have.

He said it is important to get input as the school understands "what a difficult challenge this will be developing a plan that parents, students, and staff are comfortable with."

He added, "As health conditions continue to change, our target date for releasing information on what the start of the year will look like will be late July or Early August. I wish that we could release something sooner but again, things change daily."


While the area has seen a limited number of confirmed cases, SASD is working to address student learning needs in "an environment that is as safe as we can provide for our students and staff," District Administrator Dave Aslyn said.

The district has been conducting parent and staff surveys to gather input and has received a great deal of feedback.

He said the school will take the feedback and couple it with the guidance and recommendations issued by the DPI and state health deaprtment. The plan is to bring it before the school board and communicate it to students, families, staff members, and the community before the end of July.

Landmark case involves judge, Facebook use

MADISON (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a judge's decision to become Facebook friends with a woman whose child custody case he was hearing created at least the appearance of bias, the first case of its kind in the state and one that could test the boundaries of social media use by judges.

The case involved Barron County Circuit Judge J. Michael Bitney, formerly the district attorney in Washburn County.

The case presented the question of whether a judge can violate due process rights by becoming friends with someone on Facebook. That hasn't been addressed yet by the U.S. Supreme Court, making the case one it may want to take up, said attorney Brandon Schwartz.

"Social media is obviously not going away," said Schwartz, who represented the mother fighting for custody of her child. "It would be an opportunity to provide some guidance by the U.S. Supreme Court to all of the courts across the country."

The ruling was the latest in a series of examples across the country where a judge's actions on social media call into question their ability to fairly consider cases before them. For example, two years ago the Florida Supreme Court said judges could be Facebook friends with attorneys.

Schwartz said the Wisconsin case was the first case of its kind where a violation of due process rights was alleged because of a judge becoming friends with someone on Facebook.

"It's an issue the U.S. Supreme Court may have an interest in," he said.

In Tuesday's ruling, the court determined that "the extreme facts of this case rebut the presumption of judicial impartiality," a due process violation. Justice Annette Ziegler also used the case to "strongly urge" Wisconsin judges to "weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic social media like Facebook."

"I am concerned that no matter how cautious and attentive the judge may be, a judge who uses electronic social media may expose both the judge and

the judiciary as a whole to an appearance of bias or impropriety," she wrote as part of the 4-3 majority.

But Justice Brian Hagedorn, in a dissent, said even though the case involves social media, "an area comparatively unexplored in judicial ethics circles," the facts are rather ordinary and the judge's actions did not violate the due process rights of the father as he fought for custody rights. There's not enough evidence to show whether the Facebook friendship unfairly influenced the judge, Hagedorn said.

"Judges are people too," Hagedorn wrote. "The very concept of an impartial judiciary depends upon the belief that judges can manage through their biases, news feeds, political supporters, former coworkers, and neighbors to render decisions without fear or favor to any party."

The case began in 2016 when Angela Carroll filed a motion in Barron County to adjust a custody arrangement she had reached with her son's father, Timothy Miller. She argued Miller had abused her, an accusation Miller denied.

Three days after Carroll and Miller submitted their final written arguments in 2017, the judge handling the case, Barron County Circuit Judge Michael Bitney, accepted a Facebook friend request from Carroll.

Carroll proceeded to "like" 16 of the judge's posts, "loved" two of them and commented on two of them. The bulk of Carroll's reactions to Bitney's posts were "likes" to prayers and Bible verses that he posted. None of the posts were directly related to the pending custody case. However, she also shared or liked several third-party posts that were related to domestic violence, an issue that was contested at the hearing, the court ruling said.

The judge never disclosed the Facebook friendship. He also did not like or comment on any of Carroll's posts and didn't reply to her comments. He didn't deny reading them, however.

"Carroll was effectively signaling to Judge Bitney that they were like-minded and, for that reason, she was trustworthy," Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote for the majority.

A month later Bitney ruled that Miller had abused Carroll, gave her sole custody and physical placement of their son and ordered a review of Miller's child support obligations.

After the Facebook friendship was discovered, Miller asked the judge to reconsider his ruling.

The judge said he was impartial, noting that he had simply accepted her friendship but did not "like" or comment on any of her posts. He also said that he had already decided on his ruling prior to accepting her Facebook friend request.

No "reasonable person ... would seriously call into question the court's objectivity or impartiality," the judge said.

A state appeals court later ruled in Miller's favor, saying the judge's actions created a substantial risk of bias resulting in the appearance of partiality. It ordered that the custody case proceed with a different judge and the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)