RIVER FALLS — School Board members will continue the discussion of bringing middle and high school students back to the classroom at Monday night’s meeting.

The Feb. 15 meeting agenda includes a potential decision on the district’s plan for grades 7-12 to be in school four days a week starting March 1.

Here’s what to know ahead of the meeting:

What’s the current learning environment?

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Grades PK-6 are in school five days a week, while the middle and high schools are under a hybrid learning model with in-person class three days a week. Parents also had the option of enrolling children in a virtual e-School for the 2020-2021 school year.

What’s the district's plan for grades 7-12?

Superintendent Jamie Benson issued a letter to parents and staff dated Feb. 2 outlining the district’s plan to bring grades 7-12 back to school four days a week beginning Monday, March 1.

According to the plan:

  • All students in grades 7-12 will return to in-school instruction four days a week; the specific days were yet to be determined.
  • Shortened classes will be held remotely on the remaining day.
  • Transportation will be provided to students to utilize in-school support.
  • The district will continue serving Exceptional Educational Needs (EEN) students and English-language learners (ELL) in school.
  • Parents are encouraged to transport their children to keep bus ridership down.
  • The Renaissance Charter Academy alternative high school will remain in an expanded hybrid schedule to include some students attending five days a week.

Benson cited a downward trend in regional COVID-19 activity and less spread of coronavirus in schools compared to the wider community.

“It appears reopening schools for in-person learning does not significantly increase community transmission of the virus,” he said in the letter. “Although there will always remain a level of risk associated with covid, we are attempting to balance covid-risks with the needs of our students.”

What do the experts say?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, Feb. 12, released new guidance for reopening schools.

“It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services,” according to the CDC. To do so it is important for the entire community to work together to slow the spread of coronavirus such as universal — and correct — use of masks and physical distancing.

The guidelines include:

  • K–12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.
  • In-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning.
  • When implementing phased mitigation in hybrid learning modes, schools should consider prioritizing in-person instruction for students with disabilities who may require special education and related services directly provided in school environments, as well as other students who may benefit from receiving essential instruction in a school setting.

Decisions should be based on the local situation and by taking into account stakeholder input, the number of cases among students and staff and existing mitigation measures, according to the CDC. Access to vaccines should not be considered when deciding when to reopen schools.

Do teachers and parents support in-person learning?

A recent district survey found more than 70% of parents are glad their elementary students are in school five days a week and more than one-third strongly want all students back in the classroom full time. In a separate survey for employees, district staff members were generally less enthusiastic about returning entirely to in-person class.

RELATED: Charts: How parents, staff feel about River Falls School District’s pandemic response

What’s the pandemic situation?

There were 32 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pierce County over the past week, as of Feb. 12, according to the county health department. That’s the lowest weekly case county since September 2020. There have been 3,400 confirmed cases and 32 deaths in the county since the pandemic began.

St. Croix County had a seven-day average of five new cases as of Feb. 11, according to Public Health. There have been more than 7,700 cases and 46 deaths since March 2020.

There were fewer than 15 students and fewer than five staff members in the infectious period of COVID-19 as of Jan. 25, according to the latest situation update posted on the district website.