West De Pere holds COVID-19 workshop
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – The West De Pere school board attended a COVID-19 workshop to have dialogue Monday, Nov. 2, in the high school library.
The workshop meeting, which was also attended by various West De Pere school administrators, didn’t include any board action.
The district began the year with in-person learning, five days a week for all students.
On Oct. 1, due to higher COVID-19 numbers in the community, the district went to all remote instruction for approximately two weeks before returning to in-person learning Oct. 19.
“This is a volatile time in our education due to COVID-19,” said Superintendent Dennis Krueger. “We’ve only had four weeks of in-person metrics – the month of September – to put some thoughts and numbers together. We’ve collaborated with many individuals, health officials and other districts so we have a better feel for the data.”
For gating guidelines, the district uses a multi-variable system with both quantitative and qualitative data.
There are five primary and four secondary indicators being used to decide which type of learning will take place.
The primary indicators include district percentage of positive cases, staff absences, mitigation strategies, burden rate and county positivity rate.
The secondary indicators include student absences, hospitalization, contact tracing and whether or not enough personal protection equipment is available.
“With the primary indicators, all of them have equal value, with one not more important than the other,” Krueger said. “To offer in-person learning, three or more of the indicators have to be met in the low or moderate category. If only two primary indicators are met, then three or more of the secondary indicators need to be met to consider in-person learning.”
Even if the indicators are not met, Krueger said each situation must be looked at individually.
“We can’t rush to judgment,” he said. “What happens if one classroom or school doesn’t fall in line with our acceptable metrics? We might simply shut down a classroom or school, which would alleviate the need for the whole district to close.”
Krueger said a good example is Hemlock Creek Elementary, which had four positive cases among students the second day (Oct. 20) back for in-person learning.
“Amy Schuh (director of student services) let me know, and I was like, ‘Oh no – there goes four teachers, four classrooms and the data will be put up on our COVID dashboard,’” he said. “After digging into the data, the story revealed the four students never stepped foot into the building and were all from the same family. That cast a different light on things. We need to consider the data, but we also need to consider what’s happening in the background.”
The COVID-19 data includes all students, regardless of whether they are in-person or remote, which board member Scott Borley questioned.
“I’m not sure why we’d include positive cases among remote learners in our numbers,” he said. “When people look at our dashboard and see higher numbers, they need to realize they’re higher because our remote learners are included.”
Krueger said the district includes those numbers because every learner is part of the community.
Others said, on occasion, remote learners enter the building for sports or to pick up supplies.
“We have students who need to pick up books or other equipment from school,” said Kathleen Held, Hemlock Creek principal. “Though we try and make sure to make arrangements for them not to enter the building when doing so, I still think it’s a good idea to include them in the numbers.”
Board member Tom Van De Hei asked at the workshop how the positive cases are being brought into the district.
“I haven’t heard anything about cases being transmitted from one kid to another,” he said. “Are we seeing a trend that’s putting us in a bad spot?”
Krueger gave the floor to the principals and let them respond.
“Weekends are not good for us,” said Russ Gerke, high school principal. “Kids are getting together on weekends. For example, a girl went to get tested on a Thursday because she had symptoms, but her parents still let her have a sleepover on a Saturday. Some of the students that were at the Saturday night board meeting a few weeks ago knew their parents had gone to get tested, but still attended the meeting and are now out on quarantine. We’re not 100 percent sure where anyone has gotten it, but we’re not seeing, at this point, any cases leading back to the classrooms.”
Others at the workshop said there’s frustration among the staff with how the virus is spreading.
“People are still living their lives – going to parties and going out – but my teachers are being responsible,” said Jason Lau, Westwood Elementary principal. “We can’t keep kids home. The current teacher I have out now, her whole family got it from her 3-year-old child, who was exposed at a daycare. Yes, one of our staff members got it, but it wasn’t from her being irresponsible. Our kids who bring it into the school are bringing it from home. I’d agree with Russ – I don’t have any evidence at Westwood the cases have come from kid-to-kid contact in the building, but I think it’s only a matter of time before that happens.”
Krueger said the graphs, charts and diagrams showing the district’s indicators discussed at the workshop should be available soon at wdpsd.com.