Oconto Unified School District prepares to welcome students as area COVID-19 cases rise

Nearly 900 students will be returning to learn from the classroom.
Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 4:54 PM CDT
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OCONTO, Wis. (WBAY) - Oconto County sees an increase in COVID-19 cases with the fifth highest case rate in the state.

Hundreds of students in the Oconto Unified School District prepare to start a new school year next Tuesday in-person.

“We’re really looking at first what’s safe for our students and what’s best for their academics in line with what the expectations are for safety,” said Emily Miller, Oconto Unified School District Superintendent.

She says the delicate balance is guided by information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials with input from families.

“Our parents definitely want to see their kids in the buildings, and we want them here,” said Miller. “We miss them. The staff is very excited to have the kids come back.”

In a survey to parents in the Oconto Unified School District earlier this summer, only 10 percent opted to keep their children at home for virtual learning in the first semester. In contrast, nearly 900 students will be heading back to the classroom for in-person instruction.

“The only way I can really identify ourselves coming back in the fully in-person model with the numbers that are rising is that I believe the Oconto Unified School District is creating its own community,” said Miller.

Students can expect to find signs posted in buildings throughout the district reminding them to social distance, wash their hands, and mask up.

“We know that we will have cases in our buildings, and then when we get to around two-percent of our population in a building we’ll make some decisions as to how do we further reduce the risk for students,” said Miller.

At 4 percent of infection in the district, Miller says there could be a discussion about shutting down buildings to do virtual learning for an extended period of time. However, her goal is to keep students safely in the classroom for as long as possible.

“This isn’t a choice that we’re making. This is we’re living within the effects of what this pandemic is giving us,” said Miller.

Although there has been an increase in interest for virtual learning in the Oconto Unified School District related to the rising COVID-19 case count in the area, the deadline to sign-up for completing the first semester at home closed in mid-August. Miller says the virtual learning option might re-open to parents at semester.

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