MADISON, Wis. — Some Dane County private schools have opened for in-person classes after the state Supreme Court ruling.
St. Ambrose Academy on Madison’s west side was one of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit. Several Catholic schools, parents, and other groups filed the suit, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to throw out the Public Health Madison Dane County order barring in-person instruction for third through twelfth graders. St. Ambrose raised more than $75,000 to file the suit.
The state’s highest court decided last week that schools could open temporarily, while the justices consider the full arguments from each side.
St. Ambrose Academy has 111 students in sixth through twelfth grades, serving 66 families. The small Catholic school is housed in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.
The school’s Enrollment and Learning Services Specialist Angela Hineline said families want in-person instruction. When they sent out a survey in June, she said 97 percent of them were in favor of in-person school in the fall.
“They just kept saying ‘my child is not learning well in this environment’,” Hineline said. “Education, for generations, has been a place where we use all of our senses to learn. [With] that instant feedback loop between teacher and student.”
Virtual learning has been a difficult adjustment for just about every family in the country who’s had to do it.
“It was heart-wrenching at times to support the students that I support with special learning needs in the virtual environment,” Hineline said. “I serve students with dyslexia, with learning language processing challenges, students where English is a second language in their home. The virtual environment was much less than ideal for those learners. It was a real struggle.”
Hineline said they’ve made lots of changes to school setup and instruction.
St. Ambrose bought traditional desks to replace tables. “We brought them in from Iowa and our students have their own old-style school room desk, and that's just so that we can keep them six feet apart.”
Students and teachers are required to wear masks or shields indoors. They take mask breaks outside, so students can be out in the fresh air without their face coverings.
They’re also still live-streaming classes, so those few families who were not in favor of in-person learning can participate. Hineline said that also gives families flexibility to keep their kids home for the day if they have any kind of symptom, even if it’s just a cold.
The school has also rented another space, so there are only 50 students in each building. Then they’re divided up by grade, and have staggered release times.
“Yesterday that first day, parents were really talking to their kids as they were exiting vehicles and reminding them, ‘now remember, masks, social distance’,” Hineline said.
Hineline added that because they’re such a small school, if there’s any sort of outbreak, they have the ability to notify every family fast, and shift gears.