RIVER FALLS — Meyer Middle School students joined the high schoolers this week in switching to online-only learning in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. School Board also gave unanimous approval to suspend winter sports practices and other extracurriculars until at least Dec. 5.

Grades 6-12 will operate under distance learning through Dec. 6, while PK-5 students continue to attend school in person five days a week. The district will monitor the elementary school situation daily, School Board members heard Monday night, Nov. 23.

READ MORE: In Wisconsin, some teams play while others wait

“We’ve remained nimble and responsive to the changing landscape of COVID in our schools over the last two months,” said Superintendent Jamie Benson, who addressed the board by phone because he was quarantining due to a household member testing positive for COVID-19. He emphasized that student and staff safety have been “paramount” in the district’s decisions.

School facilities will be closed to external groups for the foreseeable future, though small cohorts of students could gradually be allowed to meet in person in the interest of social, emotional and academic support, Benson said.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The board discussed planning for academics and extracurriculars going forward, with some members voicing a desire to consider changes to the learning environment and winter sports as separate motions. The discussion was a follow up from the board meeting the week prior, during which members commented that sports should be paused if students are no longer attending school in person.

School Board President Stacy Johnson Myers on Monday said the board received numerous emails from parents since the Nov. 16 meeting. She said parents are clearly passionate about the wellbeing of their students, but exactly what that means differs by family.

“For many parents that wellbeing is connected to playing sports,” she said. “For other parents it’s connected to being able to receive special education services, or participating in mock trial, or being able to come in and work in the shop.”

The common thread is a need for students to be present at school, Johnson Meyers said, adding she supported Monday’s resolution because it gives the district the best shot at limiting risk and allowing students to return to the classroom and resume other activities.

Growing COVID-19 numbers in the community prompted River Falls High School to switch to distance learning on Nov. 16. The school had been operating under a hybrid learning environment with students learning from home for a portion of the week.

A total of 55 students and 19 staff had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Nov. 23, according to a district status report presented to School Board. Fewer than 10 students and fewer than five staff members were in the infectious period of the disease.

There were 333 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pierce County over the past week, according to the county health department. In St. Croix County, there were 2,228 active cases as of Monday.

More than 80% of hospital beds and 90% of ICU beds were in use across Wisconsin's northwest hospital region as of Nov. 18.

School Board will continue to meet every Monday night.

CONTINUE READING: Pierce County advisory caps public gatherings at 25% as coronavirus continues to slam western Wisconsin