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Janesville schools update plans in case of pivot to virtual learning

JANESVILLE

Virtual learning will look different in 2020-21 if the coronavirus forces the Janesville School District to pivot from in-person classes to fully virtual education.

Classes will be more comprehensive than those offered after school buildings closed in March. The length of time that a classroom, school or the district switches to virtual learning will depend on the outbreak, officials said.

“As we begin that exciting start to the school year, we also understand that it brings very unique challenges this year and so we want to be prepared if we need to pivot to distance learning,” Allison DeGraaf, district director of learning and innovation, told the school board Tuesday.

Students learning in person this school year will participate in “social-distanced learning days.” Students will be in school buildings but learning as if they were socially distanced so staff and students can see what works and what doesn’t before such a change might be needed, DeGraaf said.

Teachers also received training on distance learning in August.

Rock County health officials have told The Gazette that decisions about classroom or school closings or pivoting to virtual learning will be up to district administrators with guidance from the health department.

Janesville Superintendent Steven Pophal will work with the department before making such a decision. School and health officials will compare other sets of data such as positivity rate and will rely on multiple statistics before deciding whether to close a classroom or school.

One of those statistics is the absentee rate—that is, if 7.5% of students and staff are absent from school because of illness, the school will be considered “in the red.” However, no one statistic will close a school, officials have said.

If a pivot to virtual learning occurs, staff members will continue to work in their respective schools, and teachers will offer both livestreamed and recorded instruction from classrooms during work days, which will run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m, DeGraaf said Tuesday.

The district wanted to have teachers on site to allow for consistent access to internet, curriculum, teacher materials and staff resources. DeGraaf said seeing a teacher in his or her classroom can benefit students, too.

“It also provides our students with a familiar classroom setting in the background,” she said. “We want to make the transition as seamless as possible so they can see a similar structure and routine and their classroom on a daily basis as they are receiving instruction from home.”

Elective courses will be offered if a pivot is needed, and students will take those courses every other day. The district operated on an A/B system every other week in spring, but the system will operate daily if a switch to virtual is needed this fall.

All staff will have flexible hours built into the end of their daily schedules. This time is designated for staff contact with parents and students as well as for planning and recording lessons.

Students will work in small groups daily. Both that change and the increase in live instruction were a result of parent feedback, DeGraaf said.

Attendance will be monitored through submitted assignments, participation in live instruction, teacher check-ins and other methods.

Traditional grading will be used this school year regardless of the delivery method. The district used a pass/fail grading system in spring.

Multiple board members applauded the changes Tuesday, saying they will allow quality education to continue for students even if a virtual shift is necessary.

“If we’re going to transition, at least you’ve done all the planning,” board member Lisa Hurda said.

“I know comments came from high-schoolers this past week that teachers are already preparing them for what that looks like. ... Even if we hopefully never go down that path, at least the organization and preparation is being done while the students are there in person.”

Board President Steve Huth said this plan allows the district to be “more prepared than ever” if students need to work from home under any scenario this school year.


Coach Kyle Polzin works with Erik Cesarz on his positioning while running through defensive responsibilities with his players on Tuesday, Sept. 8.


Head coach Hank Johnson helps sanitize gear before as players head into the locker room following their first practice of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Sanitizing their gear is one a several new protocols the team’s adopted to try and keep their players healthy and COVID free.


Crime
Brodhead man accused of sexually assaulting four brothers

JANESVILLE

Rock County prosecutors have charged a Brodhead man with repeatedly sexually assaulting four brothers over the last 11 years.

The sexual assault allegations, including rape and inappropriate touching, against Crane A. Herr, 30, of 2428 S. Dickey Road, date from 2009 until perhaps as recently as a few weeks ago, according to the criminal complaint filed Friday.

When talking about one of the victims, Herr said he was in “relations with the others” and that he “sort of wanted to do it with the next one,” the complaint states.

He was charged with four counts each of repeated sexual assault of a child and exposing a child to harmful material, which in this case appears to be pornography.

One victim told Rock County Sheriff’s Office officials Aug. 28 that Herr sexually assaulted him for about five years starting when he was 13 and ending when he moved out of state to live with a relative, the complaint states.

Herr told detectives the assaults started with that victim when the two would play a game that eventually became sexual.

He said he “groomed” one of the other victims (but denied grooming the others), which to him meant, “You take your time to gain the trust of the child and slowly move toward a sexual spot,” according to the complaint.

The sexual assaults involving another victim started when that boy was 8 or 9 years old, the complaint states. Another started at age 15.

The complaint charges offenses up to May 30. But Herr also reportedly told police he most recently had sexual contact with one of the victims during the week before he spoke with detectives.

One of the parents of the victims told authorities they thought of Herr as family, the complaint states.

Herr admitted sharing pornography with the victims, as well.

Herr also told authorities his depression left him “seeking love and confirmation from them a little bit,” the complaint states.

“I know I need to stop,” he said, according to the complaint. “But it’s a little bit you’re used to the habit of it. So you want that connection.”

He also said he attempted to take his own life.

Court Commissioner Stephen Meyer on Friday ordered Herr held on an $8,000 cash bond, court records show.

Herr is scheduled for an adjourned initial appearance at 3 p.m. Thursday.


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 9, 2020

Aaron M. Arndt

Merlyn “Red” Dahl

Laura A. Enright

Sara J. Heller

Remy Christopher Konitzer

Gloria J. McCann

Elaine C. Schumacher

Kenneth T. Soergel

Howard Swacina

Mary Jane Weber

Ruth E. Whittum


Coronavirus
Parkview district, Rock County Christian School report positive cases of virus

The Orfordville Parkview School District and Rock County Christian School in Beloit are among the latest school districts or schools to report positive cases of the coronavirus among staff or students.

Two “individuals” have tested positive for the virus in the Parkview School District, Superintendent Steve Lutzke said in an email Tuesday.

He said the incidents have not changed how the district is delivering instruction to students this week.

Rock County Christian announced that an undisclosed number of students had tested positive and the school was discontinuing in-person instruction Tuesday, according to a voicemail sent to parents.

Ron Gruber, head of school at Rock County Christian, could not be reached for comment. In his voicemail, Gruber told parents the school was in contact with the health department and said families will be notified if their students were exposed.

Asked for comment, the Rock County Public Health Department issued a news release saying it was working with “area schools” that had instances of staff or students testing positive.

A health department spokeswoman said the schools include public and private schools, but she could not immediately tell how many because of a problem with a reporting database.

“There is no evidence at this time to suggest that any of these cases were obtained in the schools,” Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval is quoted as saying in the release.

In Orfordville, one person tested positive the week of Aug. 24 and returned to school after a 10-day quarantine, Lutzke said.

Another person tested positive Thursday and had not returned to school as of Tuesday, he said.

Lutzke would not say if the two were staff or students, saying that because of the district’s small size, federal privacy law precludes releasing that information.

Both of them contracted the virus outside of school, Lutzke said.

“Contract tracing was done, and four individuals associated with the Aug. 24 case were sent home for the 14-day self-quarantine. Three of these individuals return to school on Wednesday, Sept. 9, and the fourth on Thursday, Sept. 10,” Lutzke wrote.

“Last week, Parkview had about 82% of our students attending in person and the rest participating virtually. We have the same instructional delivery model for this week,” Lutzke wrote.

In a letter sent to staff members, Lutzke wrote that potentially affected rooms were closed temporarily for disinfection.

The letter was sent to staff members who had only “limited contact” with an infected person and were not required to quarantine.

The letter, dated Monday, said the last day an infected person attended school was Tuesday, Sept. 1, which was the day classes began.

The neighboring school districts of Janesville and Brodhead also reported coronavirus cases as the first week of classes ended last week. Students were infected in both of those cases, officials said.

Brodhead High School moved to all virtual instruction this week. The Janesville School District did not.

Beloit public schools started the school year virtually Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Orfordville Village Hall was closed Tuesday for cleaning and as a precaution after family members of two employees learned they might have been exposed to the virus, said village board President Gary Phillips.

The village hall phone number, 608-879-2004, was still being answered.

Adams Publishing Group staff in Beloit contributed to this story.