As students return, Howard-Suamico looks at COVID-19 plans
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – With students back in schools Monday, Feb. 15, the Howard-Suamico school board learned at the meeting later that night positive COVID-19 test results are trending down.
“The data trending is moving in the right direction, that’s encouraging news,” said Superintendent Damian LaCroix. “You look at the seven-day case average from Thursday, Feb. 11, there’s a 68 percent drop from over a month ago.”
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a total of six positive staff cases, 22 staff in quarantine, 11 positive student cases and 169 students in quarantine, as of Feb. 15.
“Today five classrooms that had been quarantined due to our criteria are back, and as of right now we don’t have any classrooms that are out,” said Brian Nicol, director of communications.
Nicol said the Brown County burden rate, of 14-day positive tests per 100,000 people, was 211, the lowest of the school year, and the lowest since Aug. 26.
“We’ve had 13 straight days of that average dropping, decreasing,” he said. “Contrast that when in September we had 26 days of an increasing burden rate.”
Nicol said he and other school district dashboard managers talk nearly daily about a change to the reporting metric, from total people, to total tests.
LaCroix said Wisconsin has the second highest rate of vaccinations per capita in the U.S., and hopefully educators will be in line for vaccinations March 1.
“The federal government is now partnering with national pharmacies and using those pharmacies as available,” he said. “In fact, I’ve talked with a couple of people who went to Meijer grocery and got their vaccine there.”
With vaccinations pointing in the right direction, LaCroix said other mitigation strategies play a factor as well.
“I can tell you our contact tracers are meticulous,” he said. “We’ve been told by authorities we’ve been doing it above and beyond what’s required, and we’re OK with that. It’s taken a lot of time and energy.”
Board member Vanessa Moran said she got a call from a contact tracer because her son was exposed to another student at recess who tested positive.
“I was confused about why he wasn’t sent home and what happens,” Moran said. “He was allowed to stay in the classroom for two hours, and then had to be out of the classroom for two days.”
Board member Christina Antmann said her child was also exposed during a different situation and the whole class had to quarantine.
“Every situation is entirely different, and we do extensive tracing,” said Jennie Garceau, executive director of student services. “It could be a whole class – we look at the protocols posted on our website – or it could be (individual) students depending on space, time, the makeup of the classroom. So we take this on a case-by-case basis.”
One example Garceau gave was reviewing camera footage at recess to see who a student could have come into contact with.
Moreover, LaCroix said students and families deciding to stay home helps the situation, because there are fewer potential virus hosts.
Of students staying virtual, the district reported 203 in K-4, 136 in 5-6, 146 in 7-8, and 411 in 9-12.
“Part of what that affords us is the 22 percent of students at Bay Port, and that gives us greater capacity in that age group,” LaCroix said.
However, he acknowledged it’s a long road ahead to get students back to where they need to be academically.
“In so many ways we’re working through disorder to order,” LaCroix said. “We’re in the middle of this messy middle.”
Mark Smith, deputy superintendent, said there’s three target areas for getting students caught up on learning after remote instruction.
“It’s with great respect to our teachers and caution that we approach not only the presentation, but how do you aggressively pursue what students need when many of our teachers are exhausted at this point teaching in multiple modalities?” Smith said.
He said the first area involves broad academic support, including expanded intervention and extended learning times.
The second is targeted academic acceleration, which includes summer school opportunities and satellite learning sites.
Finally, Smith said the third is an offering of social and emotional supports, which include school-based mental health and expanded summer school.
“Some of the data that’s coming to us is allowing us to determine how aggressively to attack, whether it’s gaps in learning or literacy,” he said. “I think that’s going to tell us what the summer school invites are going to look like for students.”