By Shereen Siewert

Students in the Wausau School District could return to the classroom as soon as Oct. 5, if members of the Wausau School Board approve a recommendation by administrators to move to the next phase of reopening.

In late July, Wausau School Board members voted to start the school year virtually as part of a phased approach to bringing students back to the classroom. The decision left parents and students sharply divided, while prompting a petition to reopen schools immediately.

On Monday, members of the school board will hold their regularly scheduled meeting that includes a possible action plan to move cautiously to the next step in the reopening plan, which implements blended learning with in-person instruction while maintaining social distancing. In an alternating week schedule, half of students will attend classes in person Monday through Thursday while the other half attend class from home via webcam and Google Meet. Fridays are left to support virtual students and could include hub model activities.

In a letter to the Wausau School Board, Superintendent Keith Hilts cites a downward trend of daily positive COVID-19 cases in the state since the mask order was implemented. Hilts also said anecdotal evidence from school personnel suggests a significant number of families are struggling to navigate the virtual learning situation, yet there remains a significant number of families who don’t wish to return to in-person learning.

Hilts is recommending giving parents the option to continue with virtual learning if they choose to do so in the next step of the plan if they commit to at least one semester of virtual enrollment.

To help families, staff, schools and service vendors fully prepare for the transition, a survey will be sent to all WSD families to determine who will send their children to school under these circumstances. Administrators are recommending collecting the information and distributing it to schools, departments and vendors by Sept. 21, according to Monday’s agenda. Schools and vendors would then have two weeks to finalize planning for the transition.

If the plan is approved, final class lists would be developed based on survey data, bus routes would be developed, drivers would be called back to duty and food orders would be placed based on survey data, the proposal states.

A final decision, based on a second review of pertinent data, will be made at a Sept. 28 committee meeting for a start of Plan B learning on Monday, Oct. 5.

Additional guidelines call for all students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings. Student arrival and departure times could be staggered, while field trips will be on hold throughout at least the first quarter. Elementary students will stay in their classrooms while secondary students’ transitions between classes will be planned with precautionary measures and could be limited, according to the Project Relaunch outline. Large gatherings remain restricted until further notice.

As of Friday, the Wausau School District reported four cases of COVID-19, a number that will continue to be monitored as classrooms reopen. When a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19, the Marathon County Health Department will provide instructions. Siblings and household members sill be required to stay home for 14 days after their exposure to the original contact person diagnosed with the coronavirus. If they subsequently show symptoms, they will need to stay home at least 10 additional days from the onset of their symptoms or be fever-free for 24 hours and their symptoms must improve – whichever is longer, according to WSD documents.

If a COVID-19 test for staff or students with symptoms is negative, they must stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours and other symptoms have improved.

The district is also outlining steps to manage ill children and how to proceed if a COVID-19 case is confirmed in a building.

Student desks will be placed six feet apart and arranged so that students and teachers are not facing one another. Students and staff will also be required to wash their hands when entering a building, when entering a classroom before eating, and after using the bathroom.

Though students won’t have their temperatures checked upon arrival to school, families will be asked to check their child’s temperature and any symptoms of COVID-19 at home before school. A temperature of 100 degrees or greater means the child should stay home, according to the WSD plan.

At lunchtime, breakfast and lunch for elementary students will be eaten in the regular classroom and meals pre-ordered by the teacher, using to-go containers and utensils. For secondary students, classroom groups will be sent to the cafeteria in groups in a staggered schedule with extended meal time frames for breakfast and lunch service. Meals will be pre-ordered by students, parents or guardians.

Students will be graded using traditional grading practices across all PK-12 classrooms, while after-school classes will not be offered through at least the first quarter. There will be no intramural sports or activities for elementary students, though officials will reassess the situation throughout the year. Athletics, clubs and organizations will follow the recommendations of state associations and government officials.

To view the full agenda and materials, visit this page.

The regular meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14 and will be conducted virtually. Members of the public can attend by calling 1-415-655-0001, then dial the meeting room access code:  133 133 2484, or through the virtual WebEx Meeting, found at this link.

In the event a passcode is needed to enter the virtual meeting, it is: 1234.
All public participants’ phones, microphones, and chat dialog boxes will be muted or disabled during the meeting.  Members of the public who do not wish to appear in person may email cpeck@wausauschools.org with “Public Comment” in the subject line.  Those messages received prior to the start of the meeting will be provided to the Board President. 

Wausau School Board meetings are streamed live on YouTube.  Viewers may visit the site by searching for “Wausau School Board YouTube” or through www.Tinyurl.com/wsbmeetings.

People with disabilities including those with visual or hearing impairments, or who may have limited access to technology, please contact the Deputy Clerk, Cassie Peck at 715-261-0505 or cpeck@wausauschools.org.