By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point School District says it takes student welfare seriously, despite public concerns raised by students and parents.
A petition launched last week by senior Jake Bembenek, 18, asks the district to reopen schools for in-person classes four days a week. He said students are suffering academically, and in some cases, emotionally.
“I would say a lot of parents and teachers overlook just how much it has affected students,” he said. “I would say drug use has increased a whole heck of a lot now that everybody’s got a five-day weekend, essentially. I’d say that mental health has become an issue that’s been placed on a back burner, and I think a lot of students struggle with this system and have no support through it.”
In response to Bembenek’s concerns, the district released the following statement on Feb. 16:
“The district continues to partner with local agencies to provide mental health support by connecting families and community resources. We continue to partner with outside counseling services to provide on-site services to reduce the loss of educational time, provide advisory lessons surrounding the social-emotional needs of students and our staff continue to focus on key standards to complete each course. In addition, administration and student services team have significantly increased home visits as one of their many strategies to engage students and offer support. For students who are struggling, our schools have offered in-person instruction on non-cohort days, Wednesdays, and before and after school.
“We agree that increasing in-person learning opportunities is a benefit to the majority of our students while acknowledging that we are receiving feedback from parents and students on both sides of this issue. Superintendent Gerlach has been sharing updates with the school board on efforts and intentions of the District to bring 7-12 students to school in the same 4 days/week mode beginning April 5, 2021, which marks the beginning of the fourth quarter. PK-6 students have been attending 4 days/week since the beginning of the school year in September. Q4 provides teachers, students, and families time to prepare for this change to ensure that once the District moves to 4 days/week with both cohorts attending, schools are able to remain open.”
It’s possible the school board will discuss some type of reopening plans during its Feb. 22 board meeting.