Cleaning Schools

Sam Davey Elementary School custodians Heather Vitek, left, and Jeremy Fitzl disinfect desks at the school on Wednesday. All the district’s schools are being cleaned before students return; statewide K-12 school closures are expected to last at least until April 24, per Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order that went into effect Wednesday, but will last as long as the state’s public emergency declaration. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Wisconsin’s K-12 schools remain closed indefinitely, and could stay shuttered until or past April 24 — when Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order extends to — and Chippewa Valley school districts plan to keep distributing meals during that time.

Schools will also work with students to help them graduate and advance grades at the end of the spring semester, despite the closures, local superintendents told the Leader-Telegram Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, Evers ordered schools to close by 5 p.m. March 18. Last week he said the closures would last indefinitely, as long as the state was under a public health emergency declaration, or until another order re-opened schools.

Local superintendents said they’d follow Evers’ orders on reinstating in-person classes: “We will definitely follow whatever the governor’s directive is, and that could change from time to time,” said Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck.

Meal distribution to continue

The Eau Claire district will continue distributing meals on school days to children 18 and under, and plans to expand that service to more locations in the Eau Claire area beginning mid-next week. More details on the expansion will be available next week, Hardebeck said. The district will partner with busing company Student Transit to expand that service.

The district began offering free grab-and-go lunch and breakfast meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays at DeLong, Northstar and South middle schools for volunteers to distribute student meals. Meals are not available this week, due to the district’s scheduled spring break but will resume Monday, Hardebeck said.

Students no longer need to be present to pick up the meals, according to the district.

In Altoona, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls, meal distribution has also begun and will continue while schools are closed, except for those districts’ scheduled spring break weeks.

The Altoona district will resume handing out meals for kids 18 and under on Monday, Altoona schools Superintendent Ron Walsh said.

“Our food service schedule is planning to continue until either we’re stopped by an order that would force it to stop, or until we resume in person school attendance,” said Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos.

Academic plans

The Eau Claire district plans to continue the online instruction it’s already begun for some grades starting Monday, Hardebeck said.

“We’re going forward with instructions from the DPI, (and) we expect those who are on track to graduate to be able to fulfill their graduation requirements on time,” she said. “We’re working very hard with those students, and working with all our students to keep them up to date with their studies.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said last week it would waive the state’s mandated hour requirement for districts who requested it — and it would “work to ensure an expedited process.”

Districts will likely take that step, Hardebeck said.

Walsh said the Altoona district will “probably have enough hours of instruction through the year to allow people to graduate and advance grades,” but is trying to provide enrichment for students while schools are closed, instead of transforming all its curriculum into online methods. Reaching young students is harder when classes aren’t face-to-face, he said, but teachers put together take-home packets for their students.

Walsh said it’s unknown if the Altoona district will consider extending the school year.

“It’s just been really tough to plan that far ahead,” Walsh said. “We’re kind of working day to day right now, getting through this.”

The Chippewa Falls school district is transitioning its short-term virtual learning plan to a longer-term plan on April 8, Taylor-Eliopoulos said.

“When it evolved into indefinite (closures), we realized we needed something a little more deliberate,” she said, noting that families will get more details on the plan next week.

“If at any point on April 24 or after, if the order from the state level is lifted, we’ll work with local public health officials to determine if Chippewa County schools are in a place to resume in-person learning,” Elipoulos said.

The Chippewa Falls district’s plan doesn’t currently include extending its school year. It is “committed to figuring out what each student needs to be on track to take their next step to the next gate level or to graduate,” Taylor-Eliopoulos added.

Menomonie teachers are “preparing for the possibility of providing virtual instruction” and training with virtual tools this week, wrote Menomonie schools superintendent Joe Zydowsky in a blog post March 18. They plan to offer recommendations to families for daily schedules and enrichment activities.

Cleaning begins

Districts are allowed to use school buildings for distance or virtual learning, according to Evers’ order, but the Eau Claire school district closed all its buildings on Friday “until further notice” — its spring break began Monday — and said staff members who could do so would work remotely, starting March 30.

Menomonie and Altoona districts also said they would close their buildings to the public, and along with the Chippewa Falls district will be undergoing deep cleaning, the districts said in announcements.

Altoona teachers are working on electronic instruction from their homes, Walsh said.

Superintendents asked parents with questions about the next few weeks to contact teachers, principals or district administrators by phone or email.

“If this goes on longer, we’ll come up with some longer-term approaches to dealing with this,” Walsh said. “We’re not going to leave people hanging.”

Read Evers’ shelter-in-place order at tinyurl.com/wz9yjsj or at evers.wi.gov.

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