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Madison-area community in uproar after teacher constructs COVID 'fort'

Madison-area community in uproar after teacher constructs COVID 'fort'

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McFarland fort

McFarland parents objected after a teacher concerned about teaching students in-person during the COVID-19 constructed a wood-and-plastic barrier in his classroom.

Parents of children in a Dane County school district objected after photos began circulating online of a “fort” a high school teacher built around his desk to protect him from COVID-19 after the district returned to in-person instruction last month.

The enclosure, built out of what appeared to be a clear plastic tarp and wood, surrounded the in the McFarland School District teacher’s desk from the floor almost to the ceiling, complete with a door on a hinge and a vent connected to a window that led outside.

Parents freely sounded off about the teacher on Facebook, but declined to be quoted by name by the Wisconsin State Journal. Some in the Open McFarland Schools Facebook group expressed concern about the construction, saying it cast doubt on whether the teacher can effectively teach from inside the “fort” and took issue with the district for not halting its construction.

In a statement to parents Monday, McFarland Superintendent Andrew Briddell said the teacher had lost a close family member to COVID-19 and felt anxious about returning to the classroom. His class has since been moved to the library to allow for more space between students and the teacher, and the enclosure has been removed.

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“The Student Learning Center, our library, is a very large space and the teacher no longer needs the enclosure to feel comfortable,” Briddell said. “Our hope is that with each day of in-person learning people who are less comfortable with it are gradually able to become more comfortable with support from the district. This is true for students, families, and staff. It takes some time and each individual person experiences the transition a little differently.”

McFarland High School began its second week of in-person instruction on Monday.

The president of the district teacher’s union, McFarland Federation of Teachers, declined to comment on the teacher’s actions but said the union supports COVID-19 mitigation efforts taken by staff as they prepare to return to in-person learning.

“We’re supportive of staff members who are seeking out as safe conditions as possible, especially those staff members whose individual health and family member’s health is at risk,” McFarland union president Jerry Herbst said. “I think our administration is doing a good job of working through this and being respectful of the students’ learning environment as well as the safety concerns of this teacher.”

Grades 4K-2 started part-time in-person learning in September, followed by older grades in January and February. Briddell said teachers and staff for younger grades also experienced a level of anxiety upon returning to the classroom but grew more comfortable over time.

“We were very fortunate to be able to build from their success with our youngest learners,” he said. “With vaccine clinics for educators coming soon we are really looking forward to taking another step to increase safety and decrease anxieties.”

McFarland has had 10 positive COVID-19 cases among staff and 21 cases among students since September, according to the district’s COVID-19 data dashboard. The district did not have any active COVID-19 cases among staff or students as of Monday.

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