Green Bay school board to reconsider gating criteria; board pres. says he never committed to 4-week timeline

A state lawmaker says Eric Vanden Heuvel told him he’d like to resume in-person classes in 4 weeks
Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 5:14 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2021 at 8:32 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Green Bay Area Public Schools board has called a special meeting for next Tuesday, January 19, to reconsider its gating criteria for bringing students back to the classroom, but the president of the school board says he never committed to a timeline for students to return in 4 weeks.

Action 2 News spoke to School Board President Eric Vanden Heuvel after receiving statements from State Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview) and other lawmakers. According to Macco, Vanden Heuvel said he’d like to resume in-person classes in four weeks.

Vanden Heuvel told us, “Anyone who has watched any school board meetings has seen us wrestle with this -- sometimes in a way that isn’t very efficient and it’s ugly sometimes, because this is a complicated issue, and there’s seven board members that are in different places with this issue -- I stand by the fact that we want to get kids back in school. Do I want to do it in a safe manner? Absolutely. So that is the message I delivered to John Macco today.”

Macco says Vanden Heuvel was responding to a letter from him and two other local state lawmakers expressing concerns about increases in failing grades among students and reduced graduation requirements since Green Bay schools went to virtual learning due to the pandemic. Vanden Heuvel says he didn’t receive the letter, which is dated January 12, and the lawmakers didn’t reach out to him; he saw the letter circulating on social media and phoned one of the signers of the letter.

Macco wrote in a statement Thursday evening, “I was glad to receive a call from President Vanden Heuvel today and appreciate him taking our constituent concerns seriously. Students whose parents work full-time or have unreliable internet access are getting left behind. I look forward to learning more about the board’s plan and hope it includes an in-person option for all students.”

Vanden Heuvel told the lawmakers to expect more details next week, Macco said.

The school board meeting will be held online at 5 P.M. on January 19 and will not be accessible in person. As recently as this week, the school board discussed a number of options to bring students back to school.

“We really view this special board meeting as an extension of where we were on Monday” the school board president told us. “We were in the middle of a discussion. A motion was made and tabled on gating criteria. So what will be posed for the special meeting on January 19th will be continuing conversation on the gating criteria.”

He said the motion was specific to students in pre-K through second grade. The meeting’s agenda doesn’t include setting a date to bring kids back to school.

State Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) wrote, “Our students need to be back in the classroom as soon as possible, and we know that they can do so safely. Any progress made in that direction is good progress, because families who do not have the luxury of working from home need options. I appreciate the board working toward that end.”

And Rep. Dave Steffen (R-Howard) added in the statement, “Students and their families are struggling and while many would have liked to see in-person classes resume in January, I am glad that progress is being made to address the concerns of our Green Bay families.”

The latest school district survey showed 60 percent of families who responded are in favor of a hybrid model of learning for students, with in-person learning some days and virtual learning on others, when the gating criteria is met.

Parents and students demanding a return to in-person learning held rallies outside the school district offices in December.

“Over the last several months our offices have each received hundreds of calls and letters and communications from parents saying that we need to get our kids back in school,” said Rep. Steffen. “Unfortunately, many of them (the public) felt they had no other alternative other than to come to us. "

Last month, school staff reported failing grades among middle and high school students were more than double compared to the previous year. The school board reduced graduation requirements to 15 core credits set by the state Department of Public Instruction, waiving the need for 7 more credits from elective classes.

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