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La Crosse Schools extend virtual learning into November

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The La Crosse School District said Wednesday afternoon that it is continuing to teach students virtually until early November.

The letter sent out to district parents said that the extension runs through at least November 8. It stated that they won't be re-opening elementary schools for in-person learning on October 26 as scheduled.

The letter cites an increase in the case rate from COVID-19 in the community. Statistics posted on the district's website show that three of the four metrics they used to determine whether to open are in the red.

The data comes from the Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative which meets with the district on a weekly basis.

The letter, which can be read below, said that as soon as community conditions improve, schools will reopen for in-person learning.

The School District of La Crosse will extend virtual learning for all students through at least November 8. We will not be reopening elementary schools for in-person learning on Monday, October 26.

We know this decision will greatly disappoint some families. We know some families will feel immense relief. We are acutely aware of the struggles of some of our students to learn through virtual learning. We are aware of the financial difficulties virtual learning has placed on some of our families. We want to return to in-person learning too; we know that is where most of our students learn best. We too are concerned about the health and learning of our students now and in the future.

Unfortunately, the data and the experts are telling us something we do not want to hear - that at this time, with the conditions in the community, and the risk mitigations strategies available to us, we cannot safely bring back all of our elementary students for in-person learning. We are going to continue to examine the science and look for models that would allow us to mitigate the risk enough to begin in-person learning, particularly at the lower elementary grades, even if case rates remain at elevated levels. As soon as conditions in the community allow, or enough risk mitigation factors can be put in place, we will reopen for in-person learning.

Explanation of Data

Last week, while we had fallen below 25 cases per day we were hopeful conditions would continue to improve. Unfortunately, the past week’s case rate has not improved as we hoped it would. Additionally, cases in the community have continued to rise over the last seven days. The average number of cases over the last seven days was 42 indicating a case rate in La Crosse County of 35.6. The test positive ratio has also increased into the red category at 13%.

While the snapshot of the previous two weeks showed a stable case rate, more immediate data shows a drastic increase in case rate. Cases are also coming more frequently from community spread indicating more risk to students and staff. Both of our primary indicators and one of our secondary indicators are in the Red. These metrics indicate we should mitigate risk to students and staff by remaining in virtual learning.

Food Service Changes

We will have a meal order ready to go out to parents this afternoon that will include delivery via school buses as well as pick up at each school (same as we are currently doing). The deadline to submit orders will be Friday at 8:00 a.m. so we can plan bus routes for next week.

Decision Process

Here is an explanation of 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​​​​​​​

Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative and Gundersen Health System infectious disease physician Todd Kowalski said the bets way to move towards in-person learning is if the entire community take their precautions more seriously.

"No matter what model or mode of school learning your region may be in doing the little things… the masking the distancing and hand hygiene in the community at large... collectively everyone buying into that approach that's what really makes a difference in terms of reducing transmission in the community and frankly that carries over into the schools," Dr. Kowalski said.

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