HUDSON -- As it reaches the midpoint of the school year, the Hudson School District is adapting its COVID-19 metric starting in the new year, after winter break.

School Board approved moving to a metric to determine the learning environment for middle and high school that uses COVID-19 positive case numbers of residents within the district’s boundary, rather than the county at large.

Decisions will be made by schools, grouping sixth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th together.

The middle and high schools will come back in a hybrid in-person/distance learning model initially after winter break, unless the new metric requires virtual-only learning, as holiday gatherings might be more likely over that break. Then the new metric will be used starting Jan. 13.

Elementary schools will move away from school closures, instead making instruction changes by class.

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If 15% of a class has a positive case rate, that classroom will go straight to virtual. In Kindergarten through second grade, 15% is three positive cases. At the upper grades, it is four.

Elementary classes do not mix, except at recess or on buses, which have proven to be low risk, Superintendent Nick Ouellette said. The students have assigned seats and plexiglass at lunch.

Based on feedback from elementary teachers, Ouellette said hybrid learning is not a good route for the younger grades. While middle school and high school levels are not always engaged in hybrid, they at least are not a distraction to the class at large, he said.

The board also made the decision not to include long-term distance learning students in the count. If the student has not been in the building or participating in extracurriculars for some time, then their positive case number will not be counted for the matrix as they would not have had the chance to expose anyone else in the district.

Board member Heather Logelin said she liked the new model, but acknowledged that the district is still essentially relying on guessing, as there are no recommendations out there for numbers districts should follow. Ouellette said it is the district’s educated attempt at a matrix based on its data and what it has seen over the last few months.

Keepings students face-to-face as much as possible is a priority for him, Ouellette said, though it does not mean the district will do it at all costs.

“We know that’s the best learning model,” he said.

Teachers put in a lot of effort with virtual and hybrid, but they have hurdles.

The high school’s failure rates, one of the main ways to track academic progress, show a large increase, Chief Academic Officer Dave Grambow said.

Last year at the end of the first quarter, the total Fs in the high school was at 238. This year at the same time it was at 421.

“It’s obvious that teaching in this model and learning in this model has significantly increased the number of students that are experiencing failure, Grambow said.

Meeting kids where they’re at and trying to catch them up is extremely difficult, Ouellette said, and saying otherwise trivializes the challenges school will be facing when the pandemic comes to an end.

A survey sent out the previous week shows a majority of parents prefer some level of face-to-face instruction as well.

Survey results showed about 85% of elementary school parents preferred five days of full face-to-face learning as their first choice instruction model. About 8% selected hybrid as their first choice and 9% selected virtual.

At the middle school level, 60% of participating parents selected 5 days of full face-to-face as their first choice, 25% selected hybrid and 19% selected virtual.

At the high school level, 55% of participating parents preferred 5 days of full face-to-face, 23% preferred hybrid and 23% virtual.

Staff responses were pretty evenly split. About 32% of staff picked 5 days of full face-to-face as their first choice, about 39% picked hybrid and about 31% picked virtual.

Current counts

In the two weeks leading up to the Dec. 16 meeting, the high school had 26 new cases, the middle school had five, North Hudson Elementary had two and Willow River Elementary had one.