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School board affirms reopening metric in De Pere

By Lee Reinch

DE PERE – As the number of new infections rises to all-time highs and Brown County remains among the top counties in Wisconsin with the highest rates of infection, COVID fatigue among parents in the De Pere school district shows no signs of abating.

But schools in the district will remain virtual until the district meets core targets – namely 600 or fewer new infections per 100,000 people in the last 14 days.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 18, the number of new infections stands at more than double that – 1,305 per 100,000 – with a test positivity rate of 40 percent.

In addition, as of Nov. 18, 95 percent of ICU beds in the area were occupied, along with 85 percent of hospital beds.

More than 400 households tuned in to the Monday, Nov. 16, board meeting, with dozens of parents chiming in to voice opinions about their children’s virtual learning.

Parent Carrie Condon said the current numbers indicate it wouldn’t be wise to send students and staff back to an in-person learning situation.

She commended the board for focusing on health and scientific data “and not on fatigue and frustration” with the home lockdown environment.

“You are doing what our kids should be doing, listening to the experts,” said parent Susie Brekke. “Until the community chooses to do the same, it’s safer at home.”

Parent Susan Netzel said many establishments are open, including grocery stores, day cares, the YMCA, and even some neighboring school districts.

Other parents lamented their kids can go to in-person sports practices and part-time jobs but not to school.

Parent Chad Buboltz expressed concern for students with mental health challenges and the effects on them emotionally from months of isolation.

Three separate parents of boys with learning problems said their sons were finding virtual learning difficult and said they’d do better back in school.

Parent Beth Kirby said virtual learning isn’t working for her family, and students should have a choice between in-person and online learning.

“Schools are essential and need to be open,” she said.

Green Bay teacher Joe Backmann said from a teaching perspective, it’s hard to know by looking at an icon whether the student it represents is actually there and engaged.

He said students need the structure of attending school in person, and not all can succeed in the virtual sphere.

“The only kind of student that does well in online learning is the self-motivated student,” he said.

Parent Olaf Krawinkel urged parents favoring a return to school to factor transportation into their equations, as there is a shortage of bus drivers, and those who drive bus are more at-risk due to their age.

However, parent Michelle Zellner described De Pere’s online learning as phenomenal.

“The teachers really know what they’re doing,” Zellner said.

She said the reality of returning to in-person learning is it would result in a yo-yo effect: a few days of classes followed by weeks of quarantine.

The matter will be taken up again at the Dec. 14 school board meeting.

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