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South Middle School eighth-grader Jackson Wegner, front, gets organized at his locker on the first day of school on Sept. 1 in Eau Claire. School districts are reporting that hundreds of Chippewa Valley students, from Menomonie to Chippewa Falls, are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 just weeks into the academic year.

EAU CLAIRE — Just weeks into the 2021-22 school year, hundreds of Chippewa Valley students have been told to quarantine, leading some school districts and boards to consider ramping up COVID-19 precautions, or in one case, relax their quarantine requirement.

School districts, starting last year, largely adopted policies of quarantining students and staff members who were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Most large school districts in the area do not have mask requirements; only the Eau Claire school district has a universal mask policy.

Here’s how many quarantines and cases local school districts are reporting.

Eau Claire school district

Last week, between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, just over 400 students were quarantined in the Eau Claire school district — or about 4% of the student population — but no staff members.

Also last week, 34 students and two staffers tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school district’s public COVID-19 dashboard.

It is a far higher number of quarantined students than during the same time period in 2020, when 90 students and seven staff members were affected, according to the district’s dashboard.

The Eau Claire school district is the only large district in the Chippewa Valley with a universal mask requirement.

Altoona school district

Last week, between Sept. 6 and Sept. 10, there were 134 students newly quarantined, about 7% of the student population, and no new staff quarantines, the Altoona school district said in an email.

Eight students newly tested positive for COVID-19 last week, as well as six staffers.

An email from a school district official to a parent of an Altoona Middle School sixth grader, which was viewed by the Leader-Telegram, said that the entire sixth grade has been quarantined due to a COVID-19 exposure. The Altoona superintendent’s office declined to comment Wednesday, saying that contact tracing is in progress.

At the Altoona school district, masks are optional in most settings, unless local health orders require them — though the district’s reopening plan says it might require students and staff to wear masks in some environments, like in vocal music classes.

Menomonie school district

The number of quarantined Menomonie school district students has “skyrocketed," superintendent Joe Zydowsky said at a Monday school board meeting. Students had missed a total of 1,086 days related to COVID-19 in Menomonie as of Monday, he said. A large number of those student quarantines happened last week, he said.

“I want to put out there right now that this is absolutely overwhelming,” Zydowsky said Monday. “Our school district nurses and director of student services worked all weekend communicating with the Health Department. The number of exclusions just hasn’t been predicted.”

Zydowsky added: “I have no doubt we’ll be past our estimates if something doesn’t change, but something does need to change. This is not sustainable. We are going to hit a point where there are more students out of school than in school.”

Zydowsky said he recommended a mask requirement.

The Menomonie school board has twice voted not to adopt a mask requirement. Masks are currently optional in the school district.

The school board on Monday voted instead to loosen student quarantine requirements. Now Menomonie students who had previously been told to quarantine because they’d been a close contact of someone with COVID-19 will be allowed to attend school in person and participate in school sports and activities, as long as they aren’t symptomatic.

Zydowsky wrote in a blog post Tuesday: “The school district encourages the voluntary quarantine of all close contacts, but the school board has determined that it will be left up to families to decide whether students will be allowed to attend school after a potential exposure (as long as there is not a positive case in the household).”

As of Wednesday, the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates that there are 297 students currently quarantined, or 9% of the student population, and 33 that currently have COVID-19. Three staff members are quarantined, and none have tested positive, according to the dashboard.

Chippewa Falls school district

As of Friday, just over 200 students in the Chippewa Falls school district were being contact traced and quarantined, due to 25 student cases of COVID-19, said superintendent Jeff Holmes in a letter to parents last week.

The day before, the district had had just 12 student cases and 77 student quarantines, Holmes said.

On Monday, the district — which is using a tiered approach to COVID-19 precautions — moved from Level 2 to Level 3 precautions. That means masks will largely remain optional, but no visitors or field trips will be allowed, and the schools will implement social distancing where possible, according to the district’s reopening plan.

The school district on Tuesday said spectators at indoor sporting events hosted at Chippewa Falls schools will be required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, but outdoor events are still mask-optional for spectators.

In his letter, Holmes noted that the district’s attendance rates, as of last week, were lower than last year’s.

He wrote: “As explained on numerous occasions, CFAUSD cannot be an organization that is a contributor to community spread. While we certainly are cognizant of, sympathize for, and empathize with the issues, pro and con, associated with mask-wearing in school settings, evidence strongly indicates that they do make a significant difference in curbing contraction of and the spread of COVID. Based upon everything we have experienced over the past year and a half, masks will help us stay in-person longer than doing otherwise.”

CORRECTION: This story was corrected Thursday, Sept. 16 to reflect that Menomonie school district students had missed a total of 1,086 days related to COVID-19 as of Monday. The story originally stated that 1,086 students were quarantined due to COVID-19 as of that date. We regret the error.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

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.