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Wisconsin Dells High School switches to hybrid learning, elementary school pivots to remote learning due to COVID-19 case increase

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Wisconsin Dells High School has reduced capacity and one of the school district’s elementary school’s has briefly switched to remote learning due to an increase in reported positive COVID-19 cases at those buildings, officials with the school district announced Sept. 23.

Starting Sept. 24, Wisconsin Dells High School moved to a 50% reduce capacity according to a letter from District Administrator Terry Slack addressed to parents posted on the school districts website dated Sept. 23. The switch at the high school level is due to what the school district called an “uptick” in positive COVID-19 cases. An additional section of 5th grade at Spring Hill Elementary School moved to remote learning Sept. 24 due to the increase in cases reported at the building.

Students in both buildings are expected to return to in-person instruction and full capacity Oct. 4.

Details for the high school instruction were further outlined in a letter from High School Principal Hugh Gaston posted to the school districts website in a Sept. 23 letter to parents. Students whose last name begins with an A-L will report to school for in-person classes Sept. 24, Sept. 28 and Sept. 30. Students with last name beginning with M-Z will have in-person instruction Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. Students will work virtually when not attending in person-instruction.

The letter did not state how many students or staff tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of school Sept. 1. Slack said he did not immediately have the number of reported positive COVID-19 cases within the school district in a Sept. 27 follow up phone call. He said later that evening following the school board meeting the school district has reported 51 positive cases of COVID-19 between students and staff since athletic practice began in August.

The school district posts regular notifications on its website when a positive COVID-19 case is reported and the building it was detected. Spring Hill Elementary School reported four positive cases dating back to the week before, according to a Sept. 20 notification. Two cases were reported at the high school while one was reported at Lake Delton Elementary School and Wisconsin Dells Middle School the same day. One case was reported each at Wisconsin Dells High School and Spring Hill Elementary School Sept. 21. Three additional cases were reported at Spring Hill Elementary School Sept. 22 with one more reported at the high school the same day.

With the case numbers, Spring Hill Elementary School shifted to requiring face coverings for a ten-day period to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to the Sept. 20 notification. The entire school district has a mask optional policy with some flexibility to require masks depending on the amount of COVID-19 cases within a particular building or grade level. The school board approved the plan at it’s Aug. 23 meeting.

According to Slack in the letter, the idea of moving to a 50% capacity is to slow the spread of COVID-19 to ensure the district can keep in-person learning and provide opportunities for students the opportunity to participate in traditional school activities, such as homecoming. Wisconsin Dells Homecoming is scheduled for Oct. 4-9.

“As many have realized in the past 20-months our students have missed out on a number of these traditional activities and while they may not be completely academic in nature they are good for our students mental health,” Slack said in the letter. “The district will also make every attempt to safely keep extra-curriculars moving forward and this may include the rescheduling of contests as well as adjusting practice protocols to further reduce the spread of the virus.”

Public schools in Sauk, Columbia counties vary on mask policies and virtual options

Flu-like symptoms

Additionally, the school district took extra precautions late last week after students at the high school reported being ill with “stomach flu-like symptoms.”

Slack’s letter also mentioned “approximately a dozen students” at Wisconsin Dells High School started experiencing the symptoms Sept. 22, with some students experiencing additional symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and others did not. The students had eaten lunch but there wasn’t a single item the school district could trace to being a possible culprit, according Slack in his letter. After reviewing its internal food safety protocols and ensuring compliance, and in consultation with Sauk County Health and Human Services, the school district took precautions by serving an alternative lunch Sept. 23 while the investigation continued.

Slack said Sept. 27 the school district hasn’t received notification from the health department of any direct linkage to the cause of the symptoms. The school district resumed its normal lunch menu as of Sept. 24, he said.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 6:18 p.m. Sept. 28 to provide numbers of how many COVID-19 cases have been reported at Wisconsin Dells School District.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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