EAU CLAIRE — As summer beckons, Chippewa Valley school districts are ramping up face-to-face class days for student bodies, citing a majority of vaccinated teachers and relaxed federal guidelines.

In late April and early May, Eau Claire 6th through 12th grade students will return to four days of face-to-face classes each week, instead of two, the school district announced Tuesday.

Middle school students will shift to four days of in-person learning beginning April 26. High school students will make the same change starting May 3.

It means class sizes will expand, and schools won't be able to keep three feet of physical distancing between students in all situations.

“Masking, ventilation, washing hands, cleaning protocols, quarantining, we’ll follow those as closely as possible as we’ve done all year, although we acknowledge we may not be able to adhere to three feet of distancing,” said Mike Johnson, Eau Claire schools superintendent.

School officials said in February that considering the size of the high schools, without social distancing, Eau Claire high school students come into close contact with far more people each day — which would complicate contact tracing and quarantining if a COVID-19 outbreak happened in the high schools.

Johnson said Tuesday that the district’s decision was influenced by lower community transmission and new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC in March updated its guidance for schools, saying that if students and staff wore masks, it advised three feet of physical distancing in schools, instead of six.

“We learned of that CDC announcement, and heard from the Wisconsin DHS, DPI, Eau Claire City-County Health Department, three days before our spring break,” Johnson said. The district developed its plan for middle and high schools during spring break.

Johnson added that 91% of Eau Claire teachers have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Sixty-eight percent of teachers are fully vaccinated as of March 29, he said, and students 16 and older are now eligible for the vaccine themselves.

“The last five weeks of the semester for a high school student are extremely critical,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We also know our kids’ mental health is impacted positively by that increased social time with their peers.”

When the new classroom schedule goes into effect, high school and middle school students will attend classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

All students will still learn online on Wednesdays to allow for school buildings to be cleaned.

Students and staff will still be required to wear masks and follow other health precautions.

The change won't impact students learning all-virtually.

If families or students are uncomfortable with less physical distancing inside their school, they should contact their student’s school counselor or district administration to discuss an alternative, Johnson said. The options for those students will depend on the courses they’re assigned, Johnson said.

Younger students have already started increased classroom time each week.

The Eau Claire school board in February voted to shift kindergarten through 5th grade students to four days per week of face-to-face classes, instead of two. That change went into effect this week.

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.