Wisconsin Dells School District will not switch to virtual learning between Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite a recommendation from the Sauk County Health Department to try to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
With a 5-1 vote, the Dells’ school board decided at its Nov. 23 meeting to not switch to a 100% district wide, full-virtual learning model from Nov. 30 to Jan. 8 and continue with the necessary precautions in place to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Board Member Jesse Weaver voted in opposition.
Currently, the school district is in a five-day in-person model while also hosting a virtual option. The high school switched to a 50% capacity model Nov. 23 and Nov. 24 for the week of Thanksgiving because of the amount of coronavirus cases at the school, according to the high school’s website.
Other schools around the state have switched to strictly virtual learning between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the amount of coronavirus cases increasing and to mitigate the spread of the virus with the anticipation of holiday gatherings. Necedah School District in Juneau County decided to switch to virtual until at least Jan. 4 while Baraboo School District will switch to remote learning from Nov. 30 to Jan. 8.
The School District of Reedsburg decided it will not switch to virtual learning and remain in its hybrid model with students alternating instruction two days a week.
District Administrator Terry Slack didn’t see the reason to switch to virtual learning because he felt the school is not the source of the virus spread. He said spread is more prevalent out in the community.
“The school spread has been essentially minimal,” Slack said. “It’s been more the community spread and that goes back to my point earlier. Until we address some of our habits in our community, not only this community but all communities, that’s where I see the bigger issue.”
Slack felt any increase in COVID-19 cases would affect the high school level more than elementary school students, which tend to stay in cohorts and individual classes. Conversely, high school students interact with more people and switch classes. He added that moving to a full virtual model would result in “childcare hardship” for working parents.
He said action was immediately taken to switch to two weeks of virtual learning when trends saw an increase in a cohort or grade level. He stressed the school would continue to do the same, to monitor cases of the virus and make adjustments if needed.
The number of students in quarantine at Wisconsin Dells School District due to close contacts is 96 overall with 52 at the high school, or slightly over 12%, as of Nov. 23, according to data provided by the school district. The number at the high school decreased from 84 students on quarantine, or 18.71%, and 130 students overall from Nov. 20 numbers.
On just one day alone, Nov. 23, six students and two staff members tested positive for the virus while three staff members are in quarantine, according to the data.
Board Member Jim McClyman and School Board President Jennifer Gavinski spoke in favor of staying in the full-time in-person model to keep students in school.
“I’m of the opinion that for the best of our students’ mental health and even to the best of their physical health, they are safest in school as much as we can keep them in school,” Gavinski said, adding the board should address deciding if it wants to adjust its model if cases keep trending upward in the future.
Board Member Jesse Weaver, who attended the meeting remotely along with two other board members, felt it was best to consider the county public health department’s recommendation to move virtual for the holiday period. Weaver recently tested positive for the virus, acquiring COVID-19 after a co-worker contracted the virus.
He expressed concern with the in-person model. The next six weeks will feature traditional holiday seasons where gatherings are normally held and the community might not take the necessary precautions and self monitoring when returning from the holidays.
“The next six weeks are both family events and events that are traditional and let’s face it they are not going to stop, they are not going to wear masks,” Weaver said. “A month ago I may not have made this statement but going through it, and being a fortunate one, I just believe that we may need a six-week cooling off period. I suggest that we follow what the county is asking us.”