Oconto Falls schools go virtual for at least four weeks

Oconto Falls goes virtual for at least four weeks
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald News Editor

As Oconto Falls School District officials prepared to enter four weeks of all-virtual learning, the school board voted to complete the fall athletics program after hearing from parents and students anxious to maintain some semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 detours.

The Oct. 7 vote came after the board heard a detailed report on the various ways high school and middle school athletes were being kept safe during competitions.

Earlier in the week, the district had announced that students in grades 2 through 12 would transition to a fully virtual model beginning Oct. 8. This followed a two-week period when more than 30 staff members and 150 students were unable to attend school for multiple days because of COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

“When we have that many staff members out of the building, it’s almost impossible to do. … There’s an issue here of, ‘If we want to educate the kids, which is going to be the best method?’ Right now, it looks like the virtual option is the best method for that,” Board President Ron Leja said. “If you can’t staff the buildings or if we can’t staff the buses and get the kids to school, what are we going to do?”

Administrators plan to reassess the level of community spread and student positive cases during the first week in November to determine when face-to-face learning may resume.

Athletics director Jerry Moynihan detailed the various efforts to stop the spread of the virus during sporting events, including sanitizing athletic equipment during games, requiring athletes to wear masks and observing social distancing as much as possible.

In a long conversation among 19 athletic directors, Moynihan said the statistics show that community spread is not being caused by school activities.

“(Students are) making sacrifices in the way they’re eating lunches,” he said. “The whole student body, all the students — they are all doing things differently so they can continue to be here.”

Board member Ken Harter said school administrators have done a good job handling the situation and getting students to respond, but the rest of the community needs to follow that example.

“If this is going to be resolved sooner rather than later, many members in the outside community have to take some additional responsibility,” Harter said.

After hearing from a series of coaches, parents and students who asked for the opportunity to finish the sports season under the same stringent protocols, Harter moved to allow middle and high school athletics to move forward.

“I hope that every member of each of these athletic families is doing what is recommended to reduce the spread of this disease, but then also go out and promote and challenge others in the community to start following those guidelines and recommendations,” he said. “That’s what it’s going to take to get this thing under control as quickly as possible.”

The motion passed on a voice vote, to a smattering of applause from a small crowd in the high school auditorium.

The board also OK’d the administrators’ plan to continue face-to-face instruction with kindergarten, first grade and some special education students.

Superintendent Dean Hess said the decision to go virtual was not made lightly. The district’s medical liaison is a proponent of face-to-face teaching but advised the digital option given current trends, he said.

“The intent is to get back to face-to-face as soon as we’re reasonably able to that,” Hess said.

The Gillett School District was planning to return to in-person instruction Tuesday with a shorter school day and adjusted bus pickup schedules.