Area schools battle surging coronavirus

Random Lake closes schools; Port-Saukville reports 90 students quarantined, decides to continue part-time classroom instruction
Ozaukee Press staff

chools are battling a surging coronavirus that forced the Random Lake School District to close its classrooms late last week and the Port Washington-Saukville School District, which recorded its highest number of quarantined students and teachers Tuesday, to continue its blend of in-person instruction and online learning.

The Random Lake School District, which is based in Sheboygan County but includes parts of the towns of Fredonia and Belgium in Ozaukee County, closed schools Friday, Oct. 9, through at least this week because 30% of its school population — 220 students and 10 staff members — may have been exposed to a person who tested positive for Covid-19, according to the district and Sheboygan County Division of Public Health.

Supt. Mike Trimberger said those students and staff members had “low-risk” exposure at 15 different events held during a two day period to a single person who tested positive. He declined to provide additional information to avoid identifying the person and violating health privacy laws.

The district, which is providing online instruction while its buildings are closed,  tentatively plans to reopen schools on Monday Oct. 19, but that could be delayed if additional students and staff members test positive for the virus or have contact with people who have, Trimberger said. 

“Every day is tentative,” he said. “Every day the kids come to school are days I celebrate.”

Unlike the Random Lake School District, which had been providing full-time, in-person instruction since the school year began last month, the much larger Port Washington-Saukville School District has been providing a blend of part-time classroom and online instruction since reopening schools and last week announced it will continue to do so rather than increase in-person instruction because of high Covid-19 infection rates in Port Washington and Saukville. 

Supt. Michael Weber credited the district’s hybrid model with controlling the impact of the virus on the district, but it has certainly not made it immune from the struggles facing all schools in the area. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, 90 students in the district were quarantined outside of school — the largest number since schools reopened — primarily because of contact with three teachers who tested positive for the virus — two at Lincoln Elementary School and one at Dunwiddie Elementary School, Weber said. 

  Yet part-time classroom education, which effectively cuts in half the number of students in the district’s two largest schools at any one time, has reduced the need for contact tracing and quarantining, he said. Weber cited two examples of students at Port Washington High School, where half the students attend classes on Mondays and Tuesday and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays, who developed symptoms over the weekend but weren’t scheduled to return to school until the following Thursday. That gave them enough time to be tested and receive their positive results, stopping them from returning to classes and potentially spreading the virus or forcing those they had contact with to quarantine.

“If students were in school full time five days a week, the number of contacts with  those two students would have been very significant,” Weber said. “Our hybrid model is definitely working.”

Because of that and the fact the Covid-19 infection rate has been consistently high in Port Washington and Saukville, the district has chosen not to increase in-person instructional time, although that is the goal, Weber said. 

“I’m hoping the virus will settle down and we can start increasing the amount of in-person time for students,” he said. “For now, we’re taking it week by week.”

While students at the high school and Thomas Jefferson Middle School attend classes for two days and learn online three days a week, elementary school students attend classes four days a week. All schools are closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning. 

While keeping students healthy and in school is a challenge, so too is finding teachers to cover for their colleagues who contract Covid-19 or are forced to quarantine because of contact with someone who has. 

“A lot of substitute teachers are retired and don’t want to teach during a pandemic,” Weber said. 

In a Monday letter to parents, Trimberger wrote, “Looking at it today, this decision (to close schools) was fortuitous considering the School District of Random Lake would have had 11 staff members absent for face-to-face instruction today with only approximately seven substitutes available.”

Occasional teacher shortages have forced the Port Washington-Saukville School District to get creative. 

Teachers use preparation and free periods to cover classes for colleagues who are at home, and an elementary school teacher who tested positive for the virus is continuing to teach her quarantined students online, Weber said. 

At the middle school, online learning took on a new twist when students in the classroom were taught by a teacher working from home because of a Covid-19 contact outside of school, he said.  

“It was absolutely fascinating to watch,” Weber said. “The kids were perfect.

“Our staff has been fantastic. They’re making sure we can keep school going and that our kids are receiving a good education.”

And parents are cooperating with those efforts, he said, unlike those in some other districts. 

Weber said he was concerned by a report from Washington Ozaukee Public Health Officer Kirsten Johnson last month that some parents in Ozaukee and Washington counties were lying to contact tracers, refusing to have their symptomatic children tested and in some cases sending them to school after they had tested positive for Covid-19.

“When I heard that from Kirsten, I asked her about our district because I was concerned,” he said. “She said they’ve had no problems in our district. 

“I guess that tells me that the families in our district recognize the seriousness of the virus and the importance of keeping people safe.”

Ozaukee Press reporter Dan Benson contributed to this story.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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