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Colby schools stays with four-day week

By Kevin O’Brien

With two teachers and over a dozen students currently quarantined due to COVID-19, the Colby school board agreed Monday that now is not the time to add an extra day of in-person classes.

The district announced Sept. 16 that a case of COVID-19 had been reported at Colby High School, which led to contact tracing to determine who had been in recent contact with that person.

Two teachers and 12 students were found to have had close contact with the student during school hours, and a few additional students were also identified as close contacts outside of school, according to superintendent Steve Kolden.

All of those students and staff will remain at home, in quarantine, until Monday, Sept. 28, Kolden said.

Before the board took up the question of whether to switch from four to five days of in-person instruction, two parents provided opposing viewpoints on the issue.

Amanda Haupt said staying with four days of in-person instruction — with Wednesdays reserved for deep-cleaning school facilities — offers more consistency for kids at this point and reassures them that things are being done to keep them safe at school.

Haupt also expressed concerns about enforcement of the district’s attendance policy due to all the possible absences arising from COVID quarantines.

“We are now three weeks into school and my kids have missed four days of school already and I can’t get doctor’s notes, because if I get doctor’s notes, then they’re out for 10,” she said.

Haupt wanted to know how strict the district is going to be with students who may be sick.

“If they cough, can they go to school?” she asked.

Parent Renee Liedberg, on the other hand, said she supports having students in classrooms five days a week.

“I think the kids need to be here,” she said, noting that parents with concerns can always have their students wear masks.

Liedberg wondered how the district could justify allowing high school students to participate in sports practices on Wednesdays but not open the buildings for classroom education.

The district also needs to have a plan in place for differentiating between COVID- 19 and other illnesses, she said.

“The flu season is coming,” she said. “We’ve got to find that difference between COVID and the flu.”

Ultimately at Kolden’s recommendation, the board chose not to vote on switching to five days a week in school. Compared to other districts in the area, Kolden said Colby is doing relatively well, and he wants to keep that way “We’re three weeks in, and—knock on wood — things are going pretty smoothly” he said. See COLBY K-12/ Page 9 Colby

Also, he said Wednesdays are needed for district staff to help county health departments with contact tracing in the event of further COVID cases.

Still, Kolden said the board is likely to revisit the five-day schedule every month until it feels comfortable moving in that direction.

When it comes to the attendance issue, Kolden said administrators do not plan to file a lot of truancy charges during an ongoing pandemic.

“We’re going to be very flexible with that, but we will still track attendance because we need to, and we will still do send letters just to keep people informed,” he said, referring to the notifications sent to parents after a students misses a certain number of days in a semester.

Board member Cheryl Ploeckelman said the district still needs to notify parents of older students who may be skipping school without their knowledge.

“Sometimes they don’t know until they get a letter from school saying ‘Your students have not shown up,’” she said.

Board member David Decker questioned staff on whether switching to a five-day in-person week would make it harder for teachers to deal with a mix of students in the classroom and at home.

High school principal Marcia Dietrich said two teachers and two support staff have been assigned to monitor the 15 to 20 students who are currently on an allvirtual schedule. Middle school principal Jim Hagen said he is overseeing the 14 students in grades sixth through eighth learning from home.

Neither of them thought that five days of in-person classes would adversely affect the kids learning virtually.

Still, Kolden said the district will need to have discussions about how to handle online classes in the future.

“I don’t know that we want to be in the virtual school business longterm,” he said.

The board also voted to reaffirm the decision it made in July authorizing the superintendent to require face masks “as deemed essential for the health and safety of the students and faculty.” This action was taken in anticipation of Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate expiring on Sept. 28, but on Tuesday, the governor extended it for another 60 days.

“What has surprised me is how opinions vary greatly on the use of masks, and it’s kind of all over the place,” Kolden said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, different people feel very strongly in both directions.”

However, he considers face masking, along with hand-washing, to be one of the district’s “primary barriers” for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ll be the first ones to admit, when we put 26 kids in a classroom, we’re not social distancing, so we need to be doing masks,” he said.

In related news, the board passed a temporary addendum to the staff handbook establishing protocols for teachers and other staff to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The five-page policy deals with everything from monitoring possible symptoms to implementing hygiene practices in the classroom.

The addendum was recommended by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, and will automatically sunset on June 30, 2021.

_ At the district’s annual meeting on Monday, a tentative $3.2 million property tax levy was adopted, with the mil rate staying a $9.11 per thousand of equalized value. Those numbers are likely to change once the district gets final confirmation of enrollment and the total equalized value of property in the district.

_ The board approved the hiring of Cheryl Haas as a high school lunchroom computer aide and Trina Kaiser as the district-wide school nurse.

_ The board accepted a donation of cloth face masks for students and staff from Pamela Yessa.

_ The board approved an early graduation request for senior Jeret Polivka, who will have completed all of his required credits by the end of this semester.