Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

EAU CLAIRE — A majority of kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the Eau Claire school district will go back to in-person classes four days per week starting April 5.

When the Eau Claire school board voted in late February to allow K-5 students to return to face-to-face classes for four days per week instead of two, the school district said it would provide a virtual option for K-5 students who weren’t comfortable returning four days per week — since the decision means teachers and kids won’t always be 6 feet apart within school buildings.

But the vast majority of kindergarten through fifth-grade students whose families responded to a survey, nearly 3,000, said they plan to make the move to four days per week of in-person classes, school officials told the Leader-Telegram.

As of Friday, just 13 families with K-5 students responded to the survey saying they preferred not to return to classes four days a week. Those students will become the Cohort H group; they will attend via a livestream of their classrooms during the day, said Jim Schmitt, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning.

The Cohort H students are separate from the Eau Claire students in Cohort C. The Cohort C group, around 2,000 K-12 students, have been attending all-virtual classes, five days per week, since the start of the school year.

The new Cohort H students may not livestream their classrooms every hour of the school day, depending on the teacher, but the district is testing out new solutions, Schmitt said: “The duration depends on how it is set up with the teacher. For example, it may or may not be beneficial for the student to be connected to the live stream during quiet reading or quiet writing time. We’ve also played with different options like having an iPad on a stand with the student logged in and the student ‘moves’ throughout the day by moving the iPad stand.”

Under the district’s previous plan, kindergarten and third- through fifth-grade students attend school in-person two days per week and virtually the other three. (First and second-graders were already attending in-person four days per week.)

All students will still attend virtual classes on Wednesdays so school buildings can be cleaned.

The school board’s decision came as COVID-19 cases have fallen significantly in the U.S, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention release long-awaited guidance for school reopenings. Experts are still warning the country about the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing, especially in light of new variants of the virus that likely spread more easily, but in its new guidance the CDC said it’s largely safe for schools to reopen if masking and social distancing measures stay in place.

There’s no change for Eau Claire students in 6th through 12th grade after spring break; they’ll still attend two days of in-person classes each week. Since Eau Claire’s high schools and middle schools have much larger student bodies, district officials said not being able to guarantee 6 feet of distance could dramatically multiply the number of potential close contacts if someone tested positive.

Eau Claire teachers, along with teachers across the Chippewa Valley, began getting their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last 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.