At a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16, the Lodi School Board unanimously approved immediately implementing a metrics plan that would allow the district to eventually bring students back into the school buildings.
The metrics will be based on the positive number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over two-week periods in Columbia and Dane counties. The metrics will also focus on positivity rate. The plan is compiled off guidance from Dane County, Sauk County, the School District of Green Bay, Jefferson County, Harvard University, Georgetown University, and the state of Minnesota. Columbia County has given no formal guidance to its school districts.
The metrics plan for Lodi that was recommended by District Administrator Vince Breunig, and subsequently approved by the board after a lengthy discussion, lays out a plan in six phases. The administration also provided a table of statistics and figures of the past several weeks as a starting point to it metrics.
Even with the board approving immediate use of the plan, because the district wants enough information, the earliest students could possibly be back in school for a blended model is the middle of October.
“What Vince put together makes perfect sense for us,” School Board President H. Adam Steinberg said.
Implementing the metrics plan also eliminates the need to have special meetings for the board to approve the administration making jumps between phases. Based on the numbers, the administration will make the corresponding decisions.
Breunig knows that whatever decision is made, people would be on the opposite side.
“Us talking here is not changing the opinions of people in the district,” Bruenig said. He later added that the administration “is struggling between two decisions that seem wrong,” because administrators are not health experts and “they are not getting the proper support or guidance from those that are.”
Breunig went on to add that there are people who say that COVID is here to stay and we will be fine and just have to deal with it, and others who say that the district needs to take the proper precautions to protect everyone.
“And none of us are perfect in either camp,” Breunig said, stressing why the decisions come with added difficulty.
In four of the planned phases, the metrics use an and/or scenario, but the board decided for the district to just use the “or” within the statement in its decision-making process.
The six phases of the plan revolve around the risk level for the spread of COVID-19 across Columbia and Dane counties. The most dangerous is a severe risk, which has not been reached.
The two counties are currently in a “high-risk” situation which still calls for all students to be in the online instructional model. It calls for online instruction because there is significant community spread, the percentage of the positive rate has been between 7-9% for seven days, or the county case rate is between 110-150 per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks.
To move into an “elevated” phase, which would bring back students in grades 4K-5 in a blended model, the percentage of positives needs to be between 5-7% for two weeks or the county case rate is between 80-110 per 100,000 people in the last two weeks. Grades 6-12 would stay online.
In all phases, those who choose to keep their children in the online instructional model may do so.
Breunig suggested that the district use Dane County numbers as well because about 25% percent of all students and staff come from the county. A greater weight would be put on Columbia County numbers, but he did not want Dane County numbers ignored.
In a “moderate” phase, with lower case rates, grades 4K-5 would go back to full in-person learning with the proper safety precautions in place, which have been taken. Grades 6-12 would then begin a blended model.
“We cannot move back and forth (between phases),” board member Steven Ricks said. “This is all contingent on how people act in public. We didn’t create COVID, we’re not the ones going out and doing (potentially unsafe) things. We’re doing our part and we want these kids back in school.”
A “minimal” phase would include no evidence of COVID-19 being community spread, or the positive rate is 1% or lower, or the county rate is 20-50 per 100,000. In this phase, all students would return to full in-person learning with the proper precautions.
The final phase would be “low risk,” where the county rate is less than 20 per 100,000. Buildings would still provide safety precautions, but consider lifting some after referring to public health departments.
If a certain percentage of a class, or building, is absent with flu or COVID symptoms, the class could be quarantined or the building switch to an online model for up to 14 days, if necessary.
Face coverings to be required for all staff, students
When students finally return to the buildings, the district will implement a face covering requirement for all students and staff in all grades.
Despite guidelines stating that those 5-years old and younger don’t need to wear masks, the district will include 4K in its requirements as a way to stay consistent throughout. All visitors would be required to wear a face covering as well. Face coverings must also be worn at all school-sanctioned events.
Medical exemptions will be given to those with proper written documentation submitted to the district. All exemptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.