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Digging Deeper: Teachers, parents face the school year with trepidation

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MADISON (WKOW) -- This time of year usually is filled with school shopping as families prepare for the first day back to class.

But of course, this year is different as school districts prepare for the unimaginable scenarios as the number of positive cases of COVID-19 continues to spike. 

Jackie Drews is a high school science teacher at the Cambria-Friesland School District. She works in one of a handful of rural districts that decided to welcome dozens of students back into the classroom on Sept. 1.

“It's a lot of mixed emotions to be honest,” said Drews.

While Drews says she feels her district has a good plan in place, she can’t help to think of the what-if’s.

“Am I high risk? Will I be the cause of someone else’s hardships? There’s also fear if I’ll bring something back to my family,” she said.

Drews' concerns are one of many, and teachers are speaking out about the concerns they have about teaching in-person. Some staff even going as far as changing their will ahead of the school year.

Cambria-Friesland and other rural districts have safety measures in place when students come back such as hand sanitizer, face masks, and protective shields in some classes. 

Many districts in the area surveyed staff and parents about their comfort level of sending students back to the classroom.

At Sun Prairie schools, a majority of teachers -- 86% -- wanted to continue virtual learning. Parents we're split on the issue, but most supported virtual.

Those views were pretty similar in Middleton with almost all staff members surveyed supporting online learning, but parents expressing the most concerns. 

For Dawn Lamberty, she said she’s O.K. having her two daughters continue their high school education at Stoughton High School online and at home.

“My biggest fear is that all of this staying home, wearing a mask, would be wasted because we put them back into school and they would get sick,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s safe.”

The Lamberty's said they are used to virtual learning after all K-12 schools were closed earlier this year but admits challenges arise.

“To get two teenagers up to do their school work completely unsupervised was not an easy task at all,” said Lamberty.

For rural schools, many expressed different opinions about their reopening plans. At least 3/4th of teachers surveyed at Cambria Friesland School District felt somewhat comfortable with in-person instruction. Drews said overall it’s challenging to balance safety and effectiveness.

“Really difficult to prepare things virtual when that’s not your day to day life,” said Drews.

Almost all schools have plans to go virtual if there are positive cases, but it’s especially difficult for rural districts to rely on internet access. 

“More than once I was delivering paperwork to students and I lost GPS trying to get to their house,” said Drews.

Connecting to the internet and finding a reliable provider continues to worry rural school administrators after they had to adjust to virtual learning when schools closed.

As we get closer to the start of school, a majority of parents and teachers say they feel their district is prepared as best as they can to start this school year unlike any other. 

Many districts are still seeking guidance from state and local health officials on what they should do if an outbreak occurs. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services tells 27 News those plans will be released "soon. "

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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