by Grade 6-12 Principal Jason Gorst
I want to applaud our staff and students for their diligence and positive attitude as we venture into different ways to learn. We want students to be in the building as often as possible throughout the 2020-21 school year. In order for that to happen, we have taken many steps to reduce exposure to COVID-19 during medium- and high-risk activity time periods as identified by the Marathon County Department of Health Services (DHS). We have also been monitoring COVID-19 activity levels in Clark and Wood counties, as well.
To start the year we decided to go with our hybrid model. This model essentially reduced the number of students we have in the building by about 50 percent. This allows us to socially distance at 6 feet during all of our classes and also during lunch. By doing this we are able to minimize widesweeping quarantines if a student or staff member becomes ill. By wearing masks and maintaining social distance, we only need to quarantine the student who became ill and not 25+ people who would normally be considered close contacts.
The students who are not in the building are attending classes virtually from home. Students are in a rotation based on the first letter of their last name. We have focused all of our professional development time in training teachers how to effectively teach in this blended learning model. While this model might not be perfect, we do feel strongly that it is our best option to keep the kids in school as often as possible during the current time. Some might consider participating in athletics to be counterproductive given the safety precautions that are being taken at school. Feeling this way is totally understandable. In all of our sports we are going above and beyond the WIAA COVID-19 protocols to provide an environment that reduces the risk of spread wherever possible. We want to give our students as many opportunities as possible. Minimizing risk is not an allor- nothing proposition. The only way to eliminate risk is to have everyone stay home completely, which has its own pitfalls. We want to layer our mitigation tactics wherever possible to provide a worthwhile experience while reducing exposure.
With the rise of cases in central Wisconsin, the county Health Department has increased some of the quarantining measures. Below is a list of procedures that are currently in effect.
● Students who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms are sent home and should stay there for 10 days (the infectious period) or until they receive a negative test.
● Students who are exposed and considered a close contact (within 6 feet for 15+ total minutes) need to be quarantined for 14 days (the incubation period). A student may not return to school during this period even with a negative COVID test as the virus may not have manifested yet.
● Students who have a family member test positive may be quarantined for up to 24 total days if they cannot be isolated from the person who is a positive case. This basically covers the 10-day infectious period and the 14-day incubation period.
Given how conservative these measures are, it is imperative that our staff and students need to continue to grow in the area of blended learning. It is likely that we will be working in this model for a significant amount of time so that we can prevent widespread quarantines. We spent our summer preparing for all scenarios this year. While we would love to be back in school for five days per week, doing so would no doubt lead to many students being out of the building for 14+ days. Our staff has done a wonderful job in preparing themselves to teach in a blended or virtual learning model. No matter what this school year brings, I have the utmost confidence that we will be able to provide a quality education for all of our students.