RIVER FALLS — Growing COVID-19 activity in the community prompted River Falls High School to switch to distance learning starting Nov. 16, 2020. High school facilities also were closed to clubs and winter sports practices were suspended until at least Nov. 29.

Grades 9-12 will continue to learn from home through Friday, Dec. 4. The school was operating under a “hybrid” distance and in-person learning environment.

Going online-only provides a consistent experience for high school students and allows staff to focus on a single mode of instruction, Superintendent Jamie Benson said in a letter to parents Nov. 13.

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Students experiencing internet connectivity issues will be allowed to use the school library and commons area after checking in with the main office.

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The status of winter sports will continue to be evaluated, with a decision by School Board as soon as the Nov. 23 meeting.

The board voted on Nov. 10 — a few days before the suspension of practices — to allow winter sports to continue with a slate of added coronavirus mitigation measures, but on Monday night some members sided with hitting pause on athletics while students were learning from home.

“For me it’s important that if we are saying that our students are going to be 100% virtual, that we also apply that to putting sports and athletics on hold,” School Board President Stacy Johnson Myers said.

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The decision to switch learning environments is based in part on the two-week case count within the district and across Pierce County, as well as the five-day average of student and staff exclusions, Benson said during a situation update to the board.

As of Monday, there were 15 River Falls School District staff members out due to close contact and nine more were isolating while seeking diagnosis for themselves or a family member. Meanwhile, 145 students were out of school due to being a close contact and 39 due to having symptoms of COVID-19.

There were fewer than 10 students and fewer than five staff members in the infectious period of the disease as of Monday, according to the superintendent's report.

Infection rates are surging in Wisconsin and around the region.

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls announced classes would go online-only after Thanksgiving break in response to beds nearing 100% capacity in Wisconsin's northwest hospital region and Gov. Tony Evers’ executive order recommending Wisconsinites to stay home if possible.

In Pierce County the pandemic was at “tipping point” level as of Nov. 16, with 321 new confirmed cases in the past week and 13 total deaths, according to the county health department.

There were 1,959 active COVID-19 cases and 18 total deaths in St. Croix County as of Monday.

Wisconsin set a one-day record Friday, Nov. 13, with 7,777 newly reported cases. The total number of confirmed cases surpassed 316,000 on Monday, with more than 2,600 deaths, according to the Department of Health Services.

COVID-19 resources by county