Oregon School District officials are anxious to get more students back into classrooms, but with a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, they remain waiting for guidance from Dane County public health officials.
That was a main message at Monday night’s school board meeting, where district superintendent Leslie Bergstrom updated members on the planned phased restart and how the increase in county COVID-19 cases could affect that.
While Public Health Madison and Dane County has allowed in-person K-2 instruction since the start of the school year, based on COVID-19 data, a recent spike in Madison could affect its guidance. A court ruling has suspended the agency’s ability to enforce orders restricting in-person teaching, but Bergstrom told the board she favors following its guidance.
County COVID-19 cases per day had averaged between 41-50 between Aug. 3 and Sept. 3 before jumping to 94 on Sept. 10. Bergstrom said PHMDC officials attributed most of that spike to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus area, where students recently returned for in-person fall classes.
“They feel the cases are concentrated on the UW campus and there’s little evidence of spillover to other parts of the community,” she said.
Bergstrom meets twice a week with PHMDC officials and said they don’t plan to recommend that K-2 instruction go back to virtual. But she’s hoping if that happens, they give schools time to plan.
As of now, those plans are to potentially increase small-group instructional time with K-2 students from two hours a week, she said, and go from there based on county recommendations.
“We’re helping them learn to keep their mask on, to wash their hands, to do the six feet of physical distance — all those pieces,” she said. “So if public health still allows K-2 instruction, we are ready to increase the time. What I’m hearing from many of the professionals in the field is making sure there is a lower virtual count in the community before we take some of the really important next steps in getting our kids back in.”
Bergstrom said district officials understand how much families are affected by the school shutdown, and they are “100 percent committed to creating the best possible plan.”
“This is not how we will spend our entire year,” she said. “We are going to find a way forward, and that our slow start will hopefully end up allowing us to spend more time in person.
“I don’t think this is something that’s in our rearview mirror anytime soon, but I hope that we’re able to — as one of the parents put it — learn how to live in our ‘new normal.’”