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by LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Mound View Elementary will operate as a virtual school from Monday, January 25, until Tuesday, February 9, because of the number of positive COVID-19 cases and close contacts.
School district officials have been monitoring the situation for a week and have been in constant communication with the Dunn County Health Department and the Wisconsin Department of Health, said Eric Wright, district administrator, on the afternoon of January 22.
Prior to his conversation with the Colfax Messenger, Wright had been in a Zoom meeting with county and state health department officials trying to figure out where the outbreak of COVID-19 was coming from.
In the end, no one was able to figure out why Mound View Elementary was seeing a surge in cases, Wright said.
KT Gallagher, director of the Dunn County Health Department and the county’s health officer, said it would be best to pause instruction to let the infections run their course, and Wright agreed.
Because of the positive cases and the quarantines from close contacts with people infected with SARS-Co-V2, “we were struggling to staff the building,” Wright said.
“This is the right time to pause and let it run its course … we have not seen it at this level before,” he said.
Pausing in-person instruction places hardships on families, Wright said, adding, “It was a very difficult decision.”
The Elk Mound school district announced on the evening of January 21 that in-person instruction at Mound View Elementary would be switching to virtual instruction on January 25 to allow parents as much time as possible to make plans for their children not being able to be in school, he said.
According to the letter sent to Elk Mound parents, “The Elk Mound Area School District will be pausing face-to-face instruction at Mound View Elementary and transitioning to remote learning for grades 4K-4 starting Monday, January 25, through Friday, February 5. Due to the previously scheduled inservice on February 8, in-person classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, February 9.”
The inservice day on February 8 is one of the few inservice days scheduled for this school year, and so it is important to keep it as an inservice day, Wright said.
“We were hoping we would not have to do this. I’m proud we made it this long,” he said.
The staff at Elk Mound has worked hard to prepare for a transition to virtual school in case the school district did reach the point where in-person instruction had to be put on pause, Wright said.
Unless a staff member is in quarantine, school staff will be in the building teaching virtually so they have all of their materials available to teach their classes, he said.
Wright said he had been the most concerned about seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A surge between the two holidays did not occur, and Wright said he had believed if the school district could get through the first week of in-person instruction following the holiday break, that perhaps it would work out all right, and the district would be able to get through the rest of the year.
The outbreak is isolated at the elementary school right now, he said.
“We are always evaluating our mitigation measures,” Wright said, adding that students are kept in cohorts at the elementary and middle school level to try to slow the spread of the virus.
“I want to say kudos to all of our staff at all levels,” he said, adding that he appreciates the support extended by the community as well.
Wright noted that he knows a number of people who have done “all of the right things” — wearing a mask, staying at home as much as possible, keeping physically distanced, and frequent hand washing and sanitizing — and they still have contracted the virus.
Students and staff at the schools in Elk Mound have worked hard to do all of the right things as well, including custodial staff who are cleaning and sanitizing throughout the school buildings multiple times during the day, he said.
Wright also noted the symptoms of the virus can vary so much from person to person and emphasized that if parents have any symptoms at all, no matter how mild, or if their children have any symptoms, to not send their children to school.
“Student and staff safety is always foremost in all of our decisions,” he said.
During the pause when Mound View has gone to virtual classes, lunch and breakfast will continue to be available at no cost to Mound View students.
Meals began on Tuesday, January 26.
Families can pick up their meals or the school district will deliver them, Wright said.
According to the letter sent out to Elk Mound parents, students were able to bring home their technology device on Friday, January 22.
Hotspots for Internet access also were available for students to check out if they do not have Internet access at their homes.
Class materials were sent home with students on January 22.
Materials could be picked up at school January 25 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., too, and an additional pick-up day for materials is scheduled on Thursday, January 28.