More than 6,000 students will return to Janesville classrooms when 2020 school year begins

JANESVILLE, Wis. – More than 6,000 students will return to in person learning when the School District of Janesville begins classes in September.

The district, which gave families the choice of doing virtual classes, says just 30 percent of families opted for that choice. Of that 30 percent, a majority will be a hybrid of both in person and online courses.

“The virus isn’t going away,” said Superintendent Steve Pophal. “Putting kids in a classroom with a trained professional is what yields the best results for them.”

Pophal says he’s talked to local health officials three times just this week, finalizing plans on how to keep the returning students safe.

“The key for us is, will our preventative measures prevent the virus from spreading from person to person in our facilities?” he said.

In 2020, all students and faculty will be required to wear a mask when physically possible. If a student comes to school without a mask, they’ll be given one. In addition, students will remain with the same group of classmates for the entire day, including lunch and recess.

“That group of kids will be together all day long with their teacher,” Pophal said. “They won’t be interacting with other kids from their grade level or school.”

Earlier this week, the Janesville Education Association said that more than 70 percent of teachers oppose the plan to return. In addition, 76 percent of responding staff said they would prefer in-person classes to be delayed until comprehensive testing become available for the district.

Pophal says, he’s worked with closely with staff on the reopening plan and was surprised to the report.

“I would say I’m disappointed that in recent weeks the leadership of the JEA,” he said. “(They) seem to have walked away from the table and seem to have become increasingly unwilling to work with the administration to open school this fall.”

Pophal says the district is in turn hiring 70 new teachers on temporary deals, including some retired teachers. He says the goal is to allow teachers with medical conditions to teach primarily online, while teachers without risks can remain in the classroom setting.

As for parents making the decision to send their kids back to school for the first time since March, many say it has to do with both parents working outside the home.

“Mostly it was due to the logistics of being a working family with two wage earners,” said Rose Zank, who will send her 3rd grader back to school in September. “It was almost a no-brainer for us, and I am still very confident in our decision and be kept safe as possible.”

Zank says while she and her husband made the choice for their daughter, she believes it’s what her daughter wants also.

“She knows that she’ll have to wear a mask almost all of the time,” Zank said. “She understands that there are no hugs from teachers and friends.”

While such a large contingency of students will make the return to the school building, more than 2,000 will start their year in the district’s online ARISE Academy.

Some parents like Megan Guernsey say family health risks made the decision easier to make.

“My oldest has a lot of health issues with his asthma and allergies,” she said. “That’s been a key factor if they’re getting sent back to school or not.”

Guernsey says she’s glad her job allows her to work from home, giving her the opportunity to guide the virtual learning as it happens.

“I don’t even foresee the schools being open very long.” she said. “I feel like they’re all going go to go back to school then come back because (Coronavirus cases) are going to spike like in Georgia and Mississippi.”

Superintendent Pophal says he’s worried what could happen if kids, namely high school students, be left unsupervised.

“Being left unsupervised for three consecutive days in a row significantly increases the likelihood that they’re going to be sexually active,” he said.  “They’re going to get involved in juvenile delinquency. They’re going to make poor choices around substances. There’s risk in everything we do.”

Pophal also says should the district need to pivot to an entirely online curriculum, they’re able to. School begins for the School District of Janesville Sept 1.