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With schools shut down, Madison families adjust to new reality, uncertainty

With schools shut down, Madison families adjust to new reality, uncertainty

Madison school meals

Leopold Elementary School student Shalom Harimana, 12, right, and his brother, Danny, 7, receive pre-packaged bags of breakfast and lunch meals Monday from workers with the Madison School District. With schools closed for at least three weeks, the district is providing free weekday meals for students.

With Dane County schools shuttering Monday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, Madison families started to adjust to the new reality of children being home for at least three weeks.

For some, it means canceling spring break trips. To others, it’s a scramble to arrange child care or find a way to work from home. And for the Madison School District, it’s about keeping children fed and academically engaged.

“It’s kind of hectic, especially for parents like me,” said Lamin Keita, who has two children attending Lincoln Elementary School. “I’m going to graduate school. It’s extremely difficult. I have no options other than to adjust to this situation in a time of uncertainty.”

Keita lives in Madison, but the 38-year-old also attends Northwestern University in Illinois as he pursues a doctorate in political science.

He’ll be able to continue teaching remotely for the university, but Keita will also have to look after his two children and keep them to a regular school-day schedule.

While he said he expects it to be challenging, Keita, who immigrated from the West African nation of Gambia, understands why the unprecedented closure is happening.

“It should be a concern for each and every individual,” he said of the COVID-19 coronavirus. “For safety purposes, it’s better to take precautions in order to contain the virus.”

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers directed all private and public schools to close no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday. On Sunday, though, the timeline was moved up for Dane County schools after Public Health Madison and Dane County ordered classes to halt Monday.

Under the statewide order, students won’t return until April 6 or later.

On Monday, Madison school buildings were open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., giving parents an opportunity to collect items their children might have left in lockers or classrooms.

And the district also opened 12 sites for families to pick up free meals for their children.

Distributing food

District employees Missy Baker, left, and Ana Paula distribute free meals Monday at Leopold Elementary School, one of 12 sites where the district will provide food for students during the closure.

Throughout the closure, Madison will provide breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday for every child 18 and younger in a household. The locations are spread throughout the district with staggered times to pick up meals that allow food delivery trucks to make it to all sites.

On Monday, 352 breakfasts and 337 lunches were distributed.

Monica Hill stopped at a meal pick-up location outside Leopold Elementary School with her two sons.

“It’s been really rough — not with having the kids at home — just with the coronavirus going on, it’s hard to get supplies,” Hill said. “We’re really in need of food.”

The 37-year-old mother said she recently stopped receiving child-support payments and isn’t able to work due to a disability.

“They want to come to school. They don’t understand why they can’t come to school,” Hill said of her sons, Eli and Messiah. “We just keep promoting hand-washing.”

Kari Stampfli was at Leopold Elementary School with her husband and two sons, who attend the school. The family was helping package and deliver food from the school’s food pantry to families in need.

Stocking bags

Sam Stampfli, 10, and his mother, Kari, package food items from the food pantry at Leopold Elementary to be delivered to families in need who won't have access to the pantry with the school shut down.

“Our biggest concern right now is for the other families in our school, making sure that they have food and everything they need to be secure,” she said.

A GoFundMe page set up Friday had already raised more than $7,000 by Monday afternoon to buy food for families who won’t be able to get to Leopold’s in-school food pantry during the closure.

As a nurse for the school district, Stampfli won’t lose pay during the hiatus.

But she said her husband, who is a public speaker, is likely going without a paycheck, unless he’s able to work using a video conferencing platform such as Zoom.

The school district has committed to paying most hourly district employees, such as special education assistants and security guards, for two of the three weeks schools are closed.

The third week, which was to be the district’s spring break, will be unpaid for some hourly employees, which has been the case in past years.

Unlike other school districts, Madison is not — as of now — requiring students to switch to online instruction to make up for missed class time. But district officials are encouraging students to remain academically engaged in some fashion and will provide “enrichment” activities and booklets to students.

Stampfli said she will keep her two sons, ages 8 and 10, on some sort of routine with structured physical activity and education time. The family is also planning ways to avoid the boys feeling isolated from friends, such as setting up a virtual bingo night with classmates, she said.

As far as a planned cruise in the Caribbean over spring break, that’s been called off.

“We’re really listening to the 6-foot social distancing recommendation,” Stampfli said.

Cione Berkovitz, a sixth-grader at Hamilton Middle School, isn’t looking forward to the extended break from class, especially if it means making up time in the summer.

“It’s probably for the best schools are doing this so we can avoid more spread of the virus, but I don’t want to go through school in the summer,” she said. “I’m just going to miss going to school everyday.”

Cione and her brother Roman — a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School — were accompanied by their grandma, Theresa Perlis, to pick up their things at school Monday.

When the siblings’ parents are at work, Perlis will look after them. She’ll also help them with math, acting as their de facto teacher.

“We just resorted to homeschooling,” the 9-year-old Roman said. “Grandma stays with us while we just do work.”

“I hope you’re planning to actually do the work,” Perlis joked in response.

Photos: A look at how the novel coronavirus is affecting Wisconsin

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