By Shereen Siewert

Schools in Wausau will open in fall 2020 with a fully virtual curriculum, subject to regular review by the Board of Education.

The board considered several options but Wausau Superintendent Keith Hilts ultimately recommended the virtual start. Board members balked at committing to virtual learning for a full quarter, voting instead to review the decision at every board meeting as circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic evolve over time.

“The real challenge with this, as so many people have pointed out, is that…so many of the factors will be different next week or the following week,” said Wausau School Board Vice President Pat McKee. “We have to give ourselves the flexibility to address this but still get to everyone back in school in a normal fashion when it makes sense.”

Board member Jim Bouche questioned how well positioned the district is to proceed with virtual education, from technology issues to teacher training and access.

But Jon Euting, director of technology and media services responded by telling board members that the district is prepared to move forward and meet the needs of staff and students.

“We have the bandwith, we have the capability, everything we need to start the semester virtually,” Euting said. “We are more than well-suited to handle all of those things.

Bouche also asked how the district would track truancy if students didn’t follow through with assignments. Hilts replied by explaining that accountability measures would be in place and attendance would be taken during every virtual class.

Board President Tricia Zunker said requiring teachers to be health care professionals by monitoring symptoms is not a realistic expectation, and the virtual option eliminates the debate over mask use in schools.

“We are a small community but we are one of the largest districts in this state, and if we don’t get it right we risk an explosion of cases,” Zunker said.

The final vote was 6-3. Board members Jim Bouche, Lance Trollop and Lee Webster voted against the decision.