Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

EAU CLAIRE — Eau Claire school officials are still drafting an emergency plan to potentially close classrooms, school buildings or the district as a whole as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to close schools will depend on several factors, school officials said Monday: how many students and staff are absent from classes due to COVID-19; how many students and staff test positive; how many substitute staffers are available; the number of positive tests at the county level; and guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

School officials presented a draft of the closure plan to the school board Monday night.

The draft plan didn’t set specific benchmarks that would have to be reached for a school building or the whole district to close.

“The substitutes for staffers would be a key indicator for us, if people are testing positive or if they’re just out on quarantine,” said Michael Johnson, Eau Claire schools superintendent, at a Monday school board meeting. “We do not want a school closure, but we understand substitutes are very limited, even in a non-pandemic year.”

The closure plan could be applied to a single school, to a grade level, to a student cohort or to the entire district, Johnson said.

“We must plan in the event of a closure and a restrictive change in the instructional model,” Johnson said Monday. “With the onset of more community cases, we need to be prepared.”

If a school, or the whole district, closes due to a quarantine, it would stay closed — classes likely moving online — for at least two weeks, according to a draft of the emergency plan.

There are many questions the plan will have to answer, Johnson said. Schedules would have to be altered if a school or district closed for longer than two weeks.

“We’ve been planning, discussing possible scenarios. What if it’s two weeks, a month or more? The rest of the year? Would that be determined by the district or the state of Wisconsin?” Johnson said.

The number of new coronavirus cases surged in Eau Claire County in early September, when UW-Eau Claire and local K-12 schools reopened with some face-to-face classes.

County health officials said last week that nearly half of new cases since Sept. 1 were tied to UW-Eau Claire. As of Monday 1,617 county residents had contracted the virus; 861 of those cases were reported in September alone.

Of the roughly 1,600 cases in the county, 16.6% are in children ages 10 to 19. Another 2.4% are in children 9 years old and under, according to county data.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department, school administrators, teachers, busing company Student Transit and the Eau Claire Association of Educators also have input on the plan, Johnson said.

The school board did not take action on the draft plan Monday night. Johnson and school officials are slated to consult again with a parent and student group, ECAE leaders and community leaders this week before bringing the plan back to the school board for final approval.

“This is just a draft,” Johnson said. “We also want to … work closely with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department (and) with their orders. If their order changes, ours could change too.”

In other district news

• The board voted unanimously Monday to officially move a planned spring 2021 referendum to April 2022. School board members this month have discussed postponing the referendum by one year. School documents cite COVID-19’s economic impact on the community and its interruption of the referendum planning process.

• The board was slated Monday night to discuss changes to the district’s calendar, including proposals to move snow make-up days to virtual schooling days and move family-teacher conferences online. School administrators received suggestions and ideas from students and families after publishing the proposed new calendar, and plan to bring another draft of the calendar to the school board on Oct. 5, said Kay Marks, executive director of human resources.

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.