The Albany County District Board of Education killed a motion Wednesday evening to move Laramie High School and Laramie Middle School to Tier I learning, even as trustees expressed frustration with Tier II and hoped to find a way to phase in more in-person learning.
Trustees Karen Bienz, Jamin Johnson and Jason Tangeman voted in favor of the motion, while Beth Bear, Mark Bittner, Janice Marshall, Nate Martin, Lawrence Perea and Jason Satkunam voted against.
The motion stated that the move to Tier I would be conducted in phases, but no phased plan was presented to the board.
Superintendent Jubal Yennie recommended against moving to Tier I learning, during which all students would attend school five days a week. Currently, students at LMS and LHS attend school in person twice a week on alternating days and do their work virtually on other days.
The board adopted the Tier II plan for the two schools in August with a promise to revisit the issue in October. A main consideration was the difficulty of social distancing in each facility with all students present. All other district schools are operating at Tier I.
Yennie cited the current number of lab-confirmed and probable cases in the county as his motivation for recommending against the change. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, as of Thursday morning there were 272 active lab-confirmed cases in the county.
“I certainly can’t recommend that we approve this motion,” he said. “That is where I am.”
During public comment, students, parents and teachers indicated a range of positions on the issue. Laramie Middle School Spanish teacher Cassandra Clift said hybrid learning is incredibly stressful, but students and teachers alike are finding their footing.
“I ask board to move cautiously changing tiers at the secondary level,” she said.
LHS student body president Grace Abawe urged the board to remain at Tier II and argued that youth are spreading the virus and would not be able to socially distance at Tier I.
“Tier II is working well,” she said. “It allows students to both attend school and stay safe.”
Sonja Malvoisin, the parent of an LHS sophomore, said the current model makes it difficult for her student to master concepts in difficult classes and is causing stress at home. Meanwhile, she said, no other school in Wyoming is following a similar model.
“I don’t understand why it is necessary for us to be on Tier II if these other schools have been able to come up with a plan and make this work,” she said.
Lisa Delancey, a teacher and mother, said her high school honor student is falling behind in her classes and as a result struggling to stay healthy mentally. Delancey wondered whether her daughter’s qualification for the Hathaway Scholarship would be in jeopardy.
“We can do better. Two days a week is not enough,” she said.
Trustee Beth Bear said she didn’t support an immediate move to Tier I, but she had concerns about the current structure and the social and emotional challenges students are having. She urged the board to develop a plan that finds some middle ground.
“We need a timeline and we truly need to do some hard work in the next month so people know where we’re headed,” she said.
Johnson said he can no longer support the Tier II model because of the harms being done to students who face abuse, neglect, food insecurity and other trauma.
“A head-first dive into Tier I is not a reasonable and appropriate step today, but we need to make some move toward regaining a normal life for our children,” he said.
Tangeman said transmissions in Albany County were occurring among the University of Wyoming population, not in schools.
“Tier II is a very poor education for our kids, and for lots of kids it’s really bad,” he said. “I don’t think Tier II is working.”
Satkunam said teachers and other district employee groups include members of vulnerable demographics, who are pushing to remain at Tier II.
“Our mitigation strategies are working,” he said. “We have low numbers in schools and no proof that we’ve seen transmission in schools. I’m extremely proud of our district’s response to COVID, and I don’t want to see us lose ground.”
Yennie said the two schools are already brainstorming ways to bring more students to school, such as adjusting class sizes. Marshall asked Yennie to develop a phased plan during the next few weeks to present at the board’s November work session.
“A change is coming, all the time realizing that we’re still going to be monitoring community conditions and conditions in our schools, which may or may not allow that plan to come to fruition,” Marshall said.