Racine Unified one of 13 Wisconsin public school systems that didn’t offer virtual instruction in spring 2020 – Journal Times

1January 2021

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Racine Unified was one of only 3% of districts in the state that did not offer virtual learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year after buildings closed last spring, according to the Department of Public Instruction. 

Only 12 other public school districts out of 421 in the state did not offer virtual instruction in the spring. All cited lack of internet access as a reason for not providing virtual instruction. 

Racine Unified is the sole large, urban district out of those that did not provide virtual instruction. The other 12 are all small rural districts. The largest after Racine Unified, which had 17,529 students enrolled in the 2019-20 school year, was Hayward Community School District, with 2,065 students. The smallest was tiny White Lake School District with 149 students.

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A report released by the DPI Wednesday outlined the impact of COVID-19 related public school closures across the state and barriers to learning during the end of the 2019-20 school year — including lack of internet access, layoffs among school staff, and meal access for students and families in need.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said an overwhelming majority of school districts across the state opted for online-only learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ninety-seven percent of public school districts closed their buildings once novel coronavirus cases reached Wisconsin in March and after Governor Tony Evers issued a state-wide public health emergency on March 13 requiring schools to close, during the second half of the second semester or fourth quarter.

In addition to lack of internet access for students, Racine Unified also reported lack of digital devices for students to use for online learning from home and lack of teaching training as additional reasons for opting against virtual learning. 

Most of the districts that didn’t offer online learning, including Racine Unified, provided instruction through non-digital means. Racine Unified distributed paper packets by grade level to students at its drive-through meal sites. Later in the spring, closure packets were either emailed or mailed to families. In its report to DPI, Racine Unified said that its packets for all grades focused on review and enrichment, and estimated that it delivered 75% of its planned curriculum for the school year. 

Racine Unified started out the current school year with virtual learning after distributing devices to all students in grades 3-12 and internet hot spots to students who needed them. Students in grades K-2 received their devices in October, due to manufacturing delays. 

Barriers to instruction

All of the districts, online or not, reported encountering barriers in delivering effective instruction to students.

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According to DPI, those barriers included a shortage of reliable internet service, balancing at-home schooling commitments with parent employment, lack of experience with online learning platforms, caregiving and household responsibilities, an absence of childcare solutions, and getting devices and other materials to students, following the emergency health order issued March 13.

How they adapted

Of the districts that shifted to online-only learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year, 85% provided training to staff on how to effectively conduct distance-learning digitally and 43% purchased software for staff to conduct online-learning. 

Seventy-six percent of the districts that shifted to online-only learning purchased hot spots for students to access wireless internet, and 53% purchased laptops and other devices such as tablets to provide one-to-one learning to students online. 

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Eighty-two percent of public districts across the state reported zero layoffs in connection with closures at the end of the 2019-20 school year, but 6% reported layoffs of six to 20 employees, 6% reported layoffs of more than 20 employees, and 5% reported layoffs of one to five employees.

School districts across the state were able to provide more than 24 million meals to students through community partnerships and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition programs.

“The period when school buildings were closed throughout our state brought unprecedented challenges and magnified many existing inequities, as families rushed to find immediate solutions, and educators re-imagined their entire educational delivery model in the span of just a few days,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said in a statement. “I am continuously amazed by the way our students, educators, and families have responded to daunting circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state must continue supporting them and providing the resources and services necessary to ensure their needs are being met.”

In her 2021-2023 biennium budget request to the governor’s office in November, Stanford Taylor outlined priority areas of need as districts across the state work to recover from an unprecedented year full of tribulation.

Priorities outlined in the budget request include: Increasing special education funding; restoring the state’s commitment to two-thirds funding; increasing funding for mental health services in schools to respond to the growing needs of students; ensuring families who need support can access school nutrition programs; and investing strategically to help districts mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Stanford Taylor decided in January not to seek election to the state superintendent seat in 2021. She was appointed by Evers in 2019, after he won the gubernatorial race in 2018, to finish out the remaining 2.5 years of his term as state superintendent.

The report was developed in accordance with 2019 Wisconsin Assembly Act 185, which was enacted April 15. The law called for the DPI to conduct a survey on the impact of widespread, COVID-19 related closures on the state’s public school districts at the end of the 2019-20 school year. The report is required to be sent to the state legislature by Jan. 1.

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