Milton students will head back to school buildings in fall—if they want to—and virtual learning will continue to be an option for all grade levels.

After a two-hour discussion Monday, the Milton School Board approved the school district’s reopening proposal, “Milton Forward: Instructional and Building Reopening Plan for 2020-2021,” on a 5-2 vote.

Board members Brian Kvapil and Diamond McKenna voted “no,” and Shelly Crull-Hanke reminded residents that it is a “fluid” plan.

In-person instructional models are different for grades 4K-6 than they are for grades 7-12.

Students in grades 4K-6 will return to school five days a week. Small groups of children will be assigned one primary homeroom teacher and will remain in one room throughout the day as much as possible.

“We believe that it is important that our youngest students meet in person daily,” a school district presentation states. “Virtual learning is not easy for younger students and typically requires more assistance from parents. Families also have the challenge of returning to work and arranging day care for young children.”

Grades 7-12 will start the year using a blended hybrid plan. Students will be assigned to A or B groups, based on last name. A and B will alternate days with in-person lessons one day and virtual lessons the other.

Once a week, all students will be dismissed early to allow for teacher planning.

Virtual instruction will include lessons taught live by teachers and work that students do on their own.

In opposing the plan, McKenna said parent and staff surveys show families want students to be in school.

“No way do I think I would have been successful managing half my schooling at home on my own in seventh grade,” she said.

Kvapil also expressed concern about part-time virtual learning for middle and high school students, saying it would stunt students’ educational growth. He also suggested temperatures of staff and students be taken at school.

The district’s next steps include emailing a virtual learning sign-up sheet to families to determine which students will opt to do virtual-only learning.

The district also must consider transportation.

“We would encourage families to provide their own transportation if possible because that lessens the number of students on buses,” Superintendent Rich Dahman said. “We also know that’s not a possibility for every family.”

Protective measures for all grades include extra cleaning and sanitizing of shared spaces, staff and student use of face coverings, and staggered student drop-offs. Younger students will have staggered recess times, and older students’ hallways will be limited to one-way traffic.

“There’s still plenty of uncertainty for when the school year starts this fall,” Dahman said in an earlier interview.

He also acknowledged there are competing messages about COVID-19.

“Rather than us trying to wade through them,” he said, “we listen to national, state and local health officials and put a lot of weight into their recommendations.”

On Monday, Rock County remained in phase two of its reopening plan. The school district’s plan assumes the county still will be in phase two about two months from now.

“We understand that what we’re putting together isn’t something that we’re going to be tied to for a considerable amount of time if the situation changes,” Dahman said.

If a major virus outbreak occurs or the county returns to phase one, all grades would move to virtual learning.

If the county advances to phase three, all students would return to a regular school schedule. Virtual learning would continue to be an option.