Students in school but not: Board addresses concerns with 8th-graders off campus

Tracy Area High School eighth-graders have been attending school at the Veterans Memorial Center, but the situation has proved less than ideal. Tracy Area Headlight Herald file photo

By Tara Brandl

The District No. 2904 School Board on Monday challenged administration to come up with a date and plan to move the eighth-grade class back to the high school building. The school district’s Rapid Response Team has already begun discussions as to when the students can be brought back to the high school campus.

“It’s difficult having them over there — for the kids, for the teachers, for the sports coming up this spring, for custodians,” Tracy Area High School Supt. Chad Anderson said. “It’s hard for everybody, but we also have to be mindful that if we brought them over here (to the high school) how the rooms would look and how many people would be in the room. Right now we can maintain six feet social distancing, but if we brought them back we would no longer be able to do that. We would have more students in the classroom and would have tighter spaces.”

Tracy Area Public Schools started the school year in hybrid learning. However, to keep kids in a classroom setting every day, the eighth-grade has been attending class at the VMC since the beginning of the school year. After starting the year, schools were informed that in order to be considered hybrid learning, the school had to have one full day of distance learning each week. Therefore, Tracy Area High School is classified as in-person learning despite still maintaining the VMC for the eighth-grade and keeping 6 feet between students. Schools classified as in-person can have students 3 feet apart except in the lunchroom where 6 feet of space is required.

“If there are parameters and we’re allowed to do just like we expressed at the beginning of the year, it is our job as board members that represent our students to have our kids in the school as long as we legally are allowed to,” board member Ben Ludeman said. “So if we can stick within the criteria of the Department of Health and the Department of Education, I’m going to be a staunch advocate to get them in here. I don’t know if that is going to mean special meetings or motions on our part and have (the administration) meet that, but we’re going to have to discuss that sooner rather than later.”

Anderson highlighted some considerations the board would need to look at if it were to move eighth-graders back to the high school and use the gym space for classrooms once winter sports are finished.

Usually, the softball and baseball teams use the VMC for spring practice, with the batting cage. Currently, those are unavailable. However, if the eighth-grade were to be moved back to the high school and use the gym space, the track team could not use the gym for indoor practice in the spring. Anderson expressed the need to have a strong direction by fourth quarter as to how to handle the eighth-grade and spring sports as well as other programs that use the VMC. Tracy Area High School Principal Kathy Vondracek was unavailable for the meeting on Monday night and Anderson expressed the importance of having her involved in any discussion about returning the eighth-grade back to the high school.

“I can tell you that as a person that is down there, it is extremely challenging for me,” math teacher Brittany Peterson said. “We’re about five months in and it gets harder and harder. I travel back and forth between this building and that building two to three times a day depending on the day. I have to load all copies and supplies that I need into the back of my car, so I strategically have to park on whichever side of the building is going to get me as close as possible, as I have four minutes to get to the next building, which isn’t possible. All of that is extremely stressful and time (consuming). I want to be able to teach them everything I need to teach them and that’s a challenge.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.