Shawano schools head concerned about COVID trajectory

Anderson taking steps to keep public schools from closing
Randi Anderson
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Shawano School District Superintendent Randi Anderson made a plea to the public Tuesday during the Shawano School Board meeting for the community to take necessary steps to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

“Shawano, we’re not going in the right direction,” Anderson said. “Our numbers are continuing to go up, which puts our ability as a school district to stay open at risk. I need your help. As much as we might not agree with it, we need to mask. We need to social distance, and we need to stay away from large gatherings. We don’t know how we can mitigate any better than that.”

Anderson’s request came on the heels of data released by the Shawano-Menominee Counties Health Department on Tuesday showing that Shawano County had an additional 36 positive cases in the prior four days, one of the larger surges the area has seen. That brought the total cases for Shawano County to 348.

“As a county, we are at high risk, high burden, and our trajectory is growing,” Anderson said. “At that, with the plan the board approved, we would have gone 100% virtual.”

Currently, the district has elementary school students in school five days a week, middle school students in school two days a week with the other three in a virtual setting and the high school at one day a week in-person and four days virtual.

The reason the district is not going to all virtual learning now is because it is working with the county health department to establish additional gating criteria so that the county data is not the lone source for determining changing the district’s learning plans, according to Anderson.

“Not only are we looking at the local burden trajectory and activity, but we have, thanks to the county, that actual district data,” Anderson said, noting the district data also shows high risk and high burden when it comes to coronavirus numbers. “We need to get that down in order to help mitigate and to be able to open up at higher levels.”

Additionally, the district is talking with local health providers to determine the capacity for testing, hospital space and contact tracing, according to Anderson.

“We’re going to continue to work with the county,” Anderson said. “We’re going to continue to modify our cases, and if we do — when we do — have a positive case within our system, please know that we will be communicating when it impacts our families and staff.”

Anderson added that it’s still highly likely the district might to have close down a classroom or an entire school in the event that a positive case shows up involving district students and/or staff.

“Our goal is to keep our students and staff inside our buildings,” Anderson said.

Board member Chris Gull noted that he owns two homes, and he offered the use of his second home to any district staff member who tests positive to quarantine in.

“It can make life a whole lot better moving a quarantined person out of your house,” Gull said.

Board member Mart Grams urged the district to find a way to get students back into school, despite the high level of positive cases, noting the high number of calls and emails he has received about the difficulty participating in virtual learning in some of the more rural areas of the district.

“They have horrendous internet. Obviously, you want to get them educated, but they’re being denied a great deal of education, especially the special needs kids,” Grams said, noting he received four emails Tuesday specifically in regard to that segment of the student population. “They’re being denied. That’s got to stop. These people are being discriminated against.”

Anderson pointed out that the district has purchased 50 kajeets — hotspots specifically for students — to help mitigate the problem, and there are plans to purchase 50 more.

“We are doing everything we can to provide that wi-fi access to some of our families,” Anderson said. “We honestly don’t have a true handle on the number. When we did our survey to find out who had internet access and who didn’t, our numbers were very, very low for those who didn’t. The question becomes the quality of the internet access that they have and their ability to stream.”