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The road to reopening schools in Howard-Suamico

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – Local schools are collaborating on reopening metrics and hoping the community can also come together to pull out of the pandemic.

The Howard-Suamico school board learned of reopening plans at its Monday, Oct. 26, meeting created by a consortium of several local school districts.

Brian Nicol, communications director, presented information from a gating criteria workgroup composed of Howard-Suamico, De Pere, Ashwaubenon, Green Bay, Pulaski, Seymour, Syble Hopp and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

With the help of Joseph Connelly, De Pere data and assessment specialist, and Jamie Averbeck, Ashwaubenon instructional technology coordinator, Howard-Suamico will use six indicators to determine when to allow students back in schools.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) produced what they term indicators and thresholds of risk, specifically designed for decision-making tools to be able to assess introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools,” Nicol said.

The Howard-Suamico model will use two core indicators from the Brown County Health Department: the number of new positive cases over 14 days per 100,000 people and the 14 day percent of positive tests.

Those numbers on Oct. 26 were 1,028 and 30.3 percent.

To transition back to a blended approach, Nicol said those numbers would have to be below 200 new cases over 14 days and less than 10 percent positivity.

For full-time, in-person learning, Nicol said those numbers would have to be less than 20 positives per 100,000 and less than 5 percent positivity.

“As it stands right now, our best hope is to have those two indicators improve,” Nicol said. “The news from local health care agencies last week for increased testing and testing more individuals, that should improve that number tremendously. How much, I don’t know.”

The indicator model also uses four secondary indicators with numbers from the Wisconsin Hospital Association that will influence the decision to let students back on school grounds.

Those indicators are percent change in new cases over one week, the percent of hospital beds occupied, the percent of ICU beds occupied and the percent of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients.

The Oct. 26 data for those numbers are -4.5 percent positive change in cases, 87 percent of hospital beds occupied, 92 percent of ICU beds occupied, and 18 percent of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients.

Nicol said in order to consider a transition in learning, the two core indicators must be met first, then the four secondary ones can be considered.

Board member Christina Amtmann questioned the timeframe for a reopening with numbers so high in almost all of the indicators.

“So in reality, we’re not going back to school anytime soon,” she said. “I just feel like we say Nov. 6 (for a return decision) and that’s unrealistic in a sense if those are the numbers we have to get to for blended learning.”

Superintendent Damian LaCroix said an announcement on the extension will likely come Wednesday, Oct. 28, when the district makes the new dashboard metrics available on its website.

“This is a community challenge, this is a community opportunity,” he said. “I believe if we came together, we could turn it around. But if there’s not a shared commitment to that, we could be here a while.”

Any reopening plan the district makes in the future would be announced a week in advance, and the district would hold to that plan for at least two weeks, LaCroix said.

“This is a guide – we’re going to use it as a guide because it’s based on recommendations from the CDC we think are credible and actionable, and concurrently, we’ll continue to explore,” he said. “I hope that’s fair and reasonable. I fully acknowledge we’ve got families and parents that are concerned for a number of reasons.”

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