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West De Pere talks start of the school year

By Ben Rodgers

DE PERE – Hours after moving Hemlock Creek Elementary School to remote learning for the next two weeks, the West De Pere school board held its regular meeting, Monday, Sept. 21.

“This difficult decision was made based on data (COVID-related cases and quarantines at this site), and recommendations from the De Pere Health Department and our district nurse,” the letter read. “Please know that we are taking this action to protect the health and safety of our students, staff and families.”

The letter sent to district parents said Sept. 22-23 will have no learning expectations as teachers and students transition to the online learning format, at-home remote learning begins Sept. 24 and in-person classroom instruction is anticipated to resume Oct. 5.

Though the letter was sent out at 2 p.m., by 5:30 p.m. two people had comments about the decision, as well as the move to mandate face covering use for all students and staff through the end of the school year.

“This is not about a mask, and if you’re worried about cases in school, stop taking your kids to get tested and cases will magically disappear,” said Dana Dilling, district parent.

Another parent, and member of the parental advisory committee on reopening schools, Tara Czachor, said the media is driving the panic around COVID-19.

“This is not the public health crisis we’re being led to believe, and it’s time we stop pretending it is,” Czachor said.

Because the public comment topics discussed were not on the board agenda, the board was unable to respond.

However, a report on COVID-19 numbers was given later in the meeting.

“As of last Monday (Sept. 14) in the morning, we were dealing with 15 active positive cases between students and staff and 125 students and staff quarantined,” said Amy Schuh, director of student services. “As of this morning (Sept. 21), there were 18 positive cases with 306 students and teachers quarantined… Obviously we had a significant increase in cases at Hemlock Creek.”

Schuh said she is hopeful the district will have a dashboard tracking cases and quarantines on the district website in the next few days.

Even with numbers on the rise, multiple administrators reported spirits are high.

“People are doing fantastic,” said Superintendent Dennis Krueger. “Their attitudes are really good, but we’re just being really mindful and we want to continue to support our staff in any way we can.”

Jim Finley, West De Pere Middle School principal, said he is seeing a maturity in students he has never seen before in his 29 years in education in their willingness to wear masks and social-distance as much as possible.

“The kids realize how fragile this is, and how much they want to be there, and how much they are willing to do anything so they can be there,” Finley said.

According to a report from Amy LaPierre, director of curriculum, approximately 22 percent of district students (770), chose online learning for the first trimester of the school year.

At 4K kindergarten, that number is 26 percent, Hemlock Creek was 23 percent, Westwood Elementary is 23 percent, the middle school is 22 percent, the high school 19 percent, and Phantom Knight is 55 percent.

“Students and staff in the buildings are happy to be in-person, even though it’s very different,” LaPierre said. “That’s something everyone needs to realize, it is different and there’s nothing normal about this year.”

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