RIVER FALLS — It’ll be back to school one more day a week for grades 7-12 starting Monday, March 1.

River Falls School Board confirmed the district’s plan at the Feb. 15 meeting by a unanimous vote. That means middle and high school students will be in class four days a week, with shortened classes held remotely on the remaining day.

  • Watch the meeting on the district’s YouTube channel here (link is external)

Grades PK-6 are already in school five days a week.

Superintendent Jamie Benson issued a letter to parents and staff earlier this month detailing the district’s plan to revise the hybrid in-person/distance learning plan for grades 7-12. In addition to the extra day in the classroom, the district will provide transportation for students to receive in-school support.

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Benson said he and School Board President Stacy Johnson Myers have been in contact with Pierce County Public Health about the plan, and that the health department stressed the importance of physical distancing. The district’s goal is to maintain 4 feet of distancing, among other mitigation measures, he said.

School Board and committees have been discussing the plan for the past couple of weeks, board member Alan Tuchtenhagen said. Board members on Monday night agreed the benefits to students outweigh the risks at this point.

The March 1 date will provide time for teachers to prepare for the change, Johnson Meyers said.

Why the change?

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

Getting students back in the classroom — and keeping them there by avoiding outbreaks — is important for the social, emotional and academic wellbeing of children. It also is seen as an important step to getting parents back to work and rebuilding the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, 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. Accomplishing that will require a community effort to slow the spread of coronavirus such as universal use of masks.

Decisions on bringing students back into classrooms should be based on the local coronavirus situation, the CDC advised. Access to vaccines should not be considered when deciding when to reopen schools.

What’s the local situation?

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.

There were fewer than 10 students and fewer than five staff members in the infectious period of COVID-19 as of Feb. 15, according to a situation update presented to School Board. There were four new cases the week of Feb. 8-12:

  • 2 at River Falls High School,
  • 1 at Meyer Middle School, and
  • 1 at Rocky Branch Elementary School.

It marked the “most promising” week for newly reported cases so far this school year, Benson told School Board members.

What’s next?

The district will continue to monitor the pandemic situation and potentially bring all students back to school five days a week as early as April 5, according to a presentation to the board. Teachers are expected to begin getting vaccinated in mid-March.

Additional planning around prom, graduation, sports and other spring events will be ongoing.