EAU CLAIRE — School districts in the Chippewa Valley are beginning to release their back-to-school plans for the fall.

Though some districts say they’re debuting their reopening plans later in the summer, the Eau Claire and Altoona school districts say they’re planning to return to face-to-face classes, five days per week in September.

In all four large Chippewa Valley districts — Eau Claire, Altoona, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls — masks will be optional for students and teachers.

Though the districts are encouraging parents to vaccinate their children 12 and older against COVID-19, none of the four school districts will require vaccinations.

The districts’ reopening plans somewhat line up with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said this month that vaccinated students and teachers don’t have to wear masks indoors, though it said unvaccinated people older than two should still wear masks.

Altoona

In September, the Altoona school district plans to hold in-person classes five days per week, according to the district’s reopening plan.

Masks will be optional in most settings, unless local health orders require them — though the district says it might require students and staff to wear masks in some environments, like in vocal music classes.

The district isn’t requiring vaccinations for students or staff, said Altoona schools Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos.

Though schools will use as much distance as they can, “because of our classroom and class sizes, we know we will not be able to maintain 6 feet of distance” between students in school buildings, Eliopoulos said Tuesday.

Because the district can’t guarantee 6 feet of distance, unvaccinated close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 will have to be excluded from school buildings for a full 14 days, according to the district.

In the fall, the district will offer a 100% virtual option to students in sixth through 12th grades.

The deadline to enroll is Aug. 10. Families who would prefer the all-virtual option should contact Terri Hanson at thanson@altoona.k12.wi.us as soon as possible, according to the district’s plan.

Students who start the school year in the all-virtual program will be able to move to face-to-face classes at the semester point (sixth to eighth grade) or the trimester point (ninth through 12th grade).

Students who begin the school year in the face-to-face option can move to the all-virtual option at the same points in the year.

“One thing we learned over the last year is that virtual learning isn’t a fit for some students, but for others it’s a perfect fit,” Eliopoulos said. “Even if it is a smaller group of students than it was last year, we still want to provide that option to families.”

Altoona students in the 4K program will remain in the same kind of programming they’ve had in the past, except their day off will be on Fridays this year, instead of Wednesdays.

Unvaccinated staffers and students must screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school, and should stay home if they have a temperature over 100.3 degrees, a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, a loss of taste or smell, muscle pain, chills or other illness symptoms. All students and staff should stay home if they have a fever, the district said.

Unvaccinated staff or students who make close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent home to quarantine, the district said.

The district said it may adjust the plan depending on the level of COVID-19 circulation in the community: “If there is a significant change in the health of our community between now and Sept. 1, we’d need to come back together,” Eliopoulos said.

Chippewa Falls

The Chippewa Falls school district plans to make masks optional for students and teachers this fall, said Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Jeff Holmes.

Mask requirements will still be in place for school buses at least until Sept. 13, Holmes said in an email to the Leader-Telegram.

The district won’t be participating in the state’s K-12 school COVID-19 testing program for the 2021-22 school year, Holmes added. The federally funded program offers Wisconsin schools free testing supplies, diagnostics and swabbing services for either rapid antigen tests or more accurate PCR tests, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The school district plans to send out further communication about school operations in the fall on Aug. 3, Holmes said.

Eau Claire

The Eau Claire school district on Monday released its reopening plan.

It’s making masks optional for students and staffers, except on school buses. In-person classes will be held five days per week.

The district is also offering an all-virtual option, the Eau Claire Virtual School, which is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The deadline to sign up for the virtual option is July 27; enrollment information can be found at www.ecasd.us/ecvs.

The district won’t require students or staff to be vaccinated.

It plans to share details about teacher assignments, class schedules, classroom setups, physical distancing, field trips, visitor guidelines, lunches and special education later this summer.

For more information on the Eau Claire school reopening plan, see Tuesday’s Leader-Telegram or visit leadertelegram.com.

Menomonie

Masks will likely still be optional for students and teachers in the Menomonie school district in the fall.

The Menomonie school board voted to make masks optional starting in early June 2021. Menomonie schools Superintendent Joe Zydowsky said at a July 12 board meeting that a mask-optional policy is “something the board will continue to have to weigh in on.”

“That’s the direction we’re currently operating under,” Zydowsky said of the current mask-optional policy.

The district is debuting a first draft of its reopening plan at a July 26 school board meeting, Zydowsky said at the July 12 meeting.

In a July 7 blog post, Zydowsky offered more details on what families can expect in September.

The school district won’t require students and staff to be vaccinated, he wrote, noting that low vaccination rates in Dunn County are limiting the community’s protection from COVID-19.

About 22% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Dunn County are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 27% of younger teens statewide.

Though COVID-19 is circulating at lower levels around the state, Zydowsky wrote that a recent local outbreak caused Dunn County to be one of four counties in the state listed at a “high” level of COVID-19 activity. (Since then, the county has returned to a “medium” level of activity, according to state data.)

Zydowsky wrote in the blog post: “While it would be great to have a more normal school year in the SDMA, it is very possible that the anticipated spread of the Delta variant could require strict mitigation strategies — especially if vaccination percentages do not improve. Like last school year, the SDMA will prioritize keeping schools open for in-person instruction during the 2021-2022 school year, and planning is well underway.”

It’s unlikely that Menomonie classrooms will be able to keep 6 feet of physical distance between people, Zydowsky wrote.

The school district plans to share more information about the 2021-22 school year in a back-to-school newsletter later this summer.

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.