School Board Extends Initial Reopening Plan to Sept. 25; Tentatively Plans to Resume In-Person Instruction on Sept. 28 (Revised and updated)

By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner staff

In a 3 hour meeting on August 10, the Whitewater Unified School District School Board extended the reopening plan that it approved in its July 27 meeting for another two weeks, ending on September 25. The motion was passed 6-1, with Jennifer Kienbaum dissenting. Under the plan, 1/4 of the elementary students will each attend in-person learning with cohorts of four to eight students on the days of Tuesday – Friday from 12:30 – 3:00 p.m. 4K students will be in school two mornings or afternoons per week. Middle School and High School students will only attend a single orientation session during the first week of September, and then be online for the rest of the month. Special arrangements will be made as needed for ELL students, those who are at risk, and those who are unengaged by online learning. 

The board also voted that at a special meeting on September 14, depending upon the status of COVID in the area and the schools, they hope to affirm that the schools will be returning to fulltime in-person instruction as of September 28. (Note: the Banner story initially said “regular meeting.”)

Before making the decision, the board heard from the epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Health Department, who explained his rationale in recommending that school districts not return to in-person education until the 14-day positivity rate of COVID-19 testing is below 8%. Pam Streich, Educational Consultant with Jefferson County, clarified that the county does not have the authority to close a school; they may only make recommendations. They look at not only the positivity rate, but also the hospitalization rate, the community spread, whether the trend is up or down, and other factors. District Administrator Caroline Pate-Hefty indicated that the district is computing a positivity rate that utilizes the rates for Jefferson, Rock, and Walworth counties, adjusted for the percentage of the students who reside in each of the counties. That rate is currently 8.2%.

Dr. Pate-Hefty indicated that 658 students have registered thus far, out of an expected enrollment of approximately 1900. 22% of the enrollments have selected the virtual model. Parents will be able to change the model of choice for their student(s) at the end of each quarter of the school year.

The board adopted a policy that any students who are exempt from the requirement to wear a face mask will be encouraged to wear a face shield. (Note: the Banner story initially said “required.”) Members also voted to utilitze as a guiding document the Jefferson County Health Department metrix, retitled the “Jefferson Health Department Reopening County Schools and Addressing the Spread of COVID-19” plan which was just released on August 10.

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