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La Crosse Schools plan in-person return

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The School District of La Crosse plans to return elementary students to the classroom by Monday, Oct. 26.

In a letter Wednesday to parents, teachers and staff, La Crosse Superintendent Aaron Engel said while virtual learning will continue for middle and high school students until at least Nov. 1, the district "is committed to at least two weeks of in-person instruction" once it starts.

Engel added that the situation could still change if conditions deteriorate in the community. Individual school closures also remain a possibility due to localized outbreaks.

Once they return, elementary students will be in the classroom five days a week. The district will communicate bussing details as the start date draws closer.

Below is the full text of the letter from the district:

TO: School Community

FROM: Aaron Engel, Superintendent

DATE: October 14, 2020

SUBJECT: Learning Mode Update - Elementary Schools In-Person

The School District of La Crosse will return to in-person learning for 4K-5th grade elementary students on October 26. Virtual learning will be extended through at least November 1st for 6-12th grade students. We are committed to at least two weeks of in-person instruction once we start in-person instruction. 

Be prepared for additional information from building principals and teachers over the next week. If conditions continue to improve as expected, we anticipate moving to hybrid instruction for middle school students on November 2. High school students will remain in virtual learning until we see further improvements.

Unanticipated Or Intermittent Closure

While we are committed to opening on October 26 and remaining open for at least two weeks, if conditions in the community deteriorate rapidly, we may not be able to reopen or have to close earlier than expected to ensure the safety of students and staff. Individual buildings may have closures if we are unable to staff buildings due to illness or if enough students are absent due to illness as to present a public health concern. 

Instruction

Instruction for elementary students starting October 26 will be five days a week following the traditional start and end times. Synchronous virtual instruction for elementary students will be suspended on Thursday and Friday of next week so that teachers and teaching assistants can prepare rooms and procedures for the return of students. CRVA students will remain on their schedule as usual. 

Transportation

Parents will receive communication from our transportation provider, GO Riteway, early next week regarding bus routes, pick up times and seating charts. We encourage parents that are able to do so to transport their own children to create more space on busses.

Food Service

Both breakfast and lunch are free for all students this entire school year. Additional information will be provided next week on lunches that are delivered to students in the CRVA and in middle and high school.

Explanation of Data

One primary metric, case rate, indicates we should be conducting virtual learning for all students at this time. The other primary metric, positive test ratio, indicates we are in the Orange category and can consider in-person instruction for elementary students. 

The secondary metrics indicate COVID-19 conditions in the community are improving at a rate fast enough to allow for in-person learning in two weeks for at least elementary students. New positive cases are coming predominantly from close contacts, not from community spread. The case rate has been steadily declining for more than 14 days and on its current trajectory would place the case rate below 25 cases per day on October 26. 

Decision Process

Here is an explanation on how decisions are made regarding reopening schools. On Wednesdays, we meet with the Coulee Collaborative, which includes representatives from the County Health Department, County administration, Mayo and Gundersen Health Systems, long-term health care facilities, private and public schools, and the business community. We discuss the data for the last week and trends. We give status updates on each of our sectors and discuss recommendations for the community. 

Afterward, we meet with our medical advisor from Gundersen Health System. We discuss the data as it pertains to the School District of La Crosse and develop options for the near future. Finally, we meet with the other superintendents in La Crosse County to discuss how we intend to approach the next week. We try to align our practices, but also are responsive to the unique factors in each of our districts. Although we are using the same data and decision matrix, we experience different local conditions, building arrangements, staffing considerations, and logistical issues. This leads to differences in our approach.

For more information about this week's metrics, please visit www.lacrosseschools.org.

Dustin Luecke

Dustin Luecke anchors News 19 Daybreak weekday mornings.

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