Schools to close for a week to keep Christmas Covid-19 out

Divided PW-S board OKs plan to provide online-only instruction the first week of January
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington-Saukville School District, which has not had to close its buildings because of the coronavirus, will do so the first week of January in an effort to keep Covid-19 spread during holiday gatherings out of its schools.

Students will be taught online only during the week of Jan. 4, which is immediately after the winter break, and return to classrooms beginning on Jan. 11 under a plan proposed by administrators and approved by a divided School Board Monday.

Also under the plan, both in-person and online instruction will be canceled on Dec. 21 and 22 — the two days preceding the break — to give staff members stressed by an increased workload and shortage of teachers a break and time to plan for the week of online instruction and the end of the semester shortly after that.

Supt. Michael Weber called the plan a preemptive approach to controlling the impact of the virus on schools at a time when, during the height of the cold and flu season when families are bound to gather for the holidays despite advice from health experts not to, they are particularly vulnerable.

“We are trying to be proactive in dealing with an unpredictable virus,” he said. “It’s much better to plan ahead than to come back right away only to have to shut down because of infections and quarantines.”

Reading a note from school district nurse Abby Kirchen, Weber said, “This would give us the best chance of protecting student and staff safety.”

Director of Special Services Duane Woelfel noted that the week of online learning immediately after the winter break will keep students out of schools for 14 days after Christmas.

“That week gets us through the 14-day incubation period (for the coronavirus),” he said. 

That week is designed to give schools time to determine who is ill and trace the contacts they have had with others before students and staff members have the opportunity to spread the virus in schools, administrators said.

“It will give us the opportunity to do contact tracing and make sure our kids are safe,” Weber said.

While some school board members praised the plan, others said that it comes at the cost of precious in-person teaching, which most students in the district receive for only two days a week under the district’s hybrid learning model.

“I thought our model was supposed to keep us in school,” school board member Aaron Paulin, who voted against the plan, said. “Aren’t we safe in school because of our model?”

The school district began the school year and continues to operate under a blended instruction system in which high school and middle school students are divided into two groups, one of which attends in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other on Thursdays and Fridays. The students are taught online the other three days of the week.

Elementary school students attend classes four days a week and learn online one day a week. All schools are closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning.

The district is the only one in Ozaukee County that does not provide full-time, five-day-a-week in-person instruction.

Paulin asked that if Christmas is a concern, shouldn’t the district be worried about the spread of the virus from Thanksgiving gatherings.

“Yes, I think there is a concern,” Weber said. “But I think it will be much more of a concern with Christmas and New Year’s.”

Also voting against the plan was School Board Member Doug Mueller, who said that while a week of online learning may be a good idea for elementary school students who are all in school at the same time, it sacrifices what little in-person instruction middle and high school students receive over the course of a week.

“It may be OK for elementary school, but should we think of something else for the high school and middle school?” Mueller asked.

The district’s plan will add it to the growing list of area school systems that have closed school buildings because of the virus. The Northern Ozaukee School District in Fredonia, as well as the Random Lake and Cedarburg school districts, switched to online learning this week because of Covid-19, in particular because of a shortage of teachers.

St. John XXIII and the Mequon-Thiensville School District have previously closed schools and switched to online instruction for periods of time.

The Grafton and Cedar Grove-Belgium school districts are the only ones in the area that have not closed schools.


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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.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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