EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire school board this evening will hear an update on the imminent return of most kindergarten, third, fourth and fifth grade students to primarily in-person classes.

For most young students in the Eau Claire school district, today is the first day in a year that they are back in classrooms for most of the week.

After months of nearly all K-12 students taking in-person classes two days per week due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, the school board in February voted to allow kindergarten and third- through fifth-grade students to return to face-to-face classes four days per week.

First and second-grade students are already attending in-person classes four days per week; there will be no change for those students.

There’s also no change for students in sixth through 12th grade; they’ll still attend two days of in-person classes each week.

The school board’s decision came as COVID-19 cases were falling in Wisconsin and in the U.S., and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that COVID-19 spread inside schools is rare.

School administrators have cautioned that bringing kindergarten through fifth grade back to in-person classes four days per week, instead of two, will mean that in those schools, the district won’t be able to guarantee six feet of physical distancing.

“The CDC recommends our elementary, middle and high schools all remain in hybrid learning models with the required six feet of physical distance,” said Kim Koller, executive director of administration for the district, at a February meeting. “However, we’ve weighed the risk with additional mitigation strategies, and we are confident in our recommendation.”

COVID-19 hasn’t spread through in-person classes if schools require masks, social distancing and consider the degree of community virus transmission, according to the CDC.

People inside Eau Claire school buildings will still be required to wear masks.

Many teachers in local districts have also already been vaccinated, since school districts began getting staffers vaccinated in early March.

Also on today’s agenda:

  • The school board is slated to meet today in closed session at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. It will meet in an open session at 7 p.m.
  • The board is slated to hold a first reading of a new policy on coherent governance, a governing model that dictates how school boards function.
  • The board is set to vote on a 2021-22 master agreement between the Eau Claire Association of Educators and the school district, which will include a 1.23% base wage increase for the ECAE, according to meeting documents. The school board has offered a wage increase of 1.23% for all employees for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
  • The board is set to vote on allowing student representatives to the board for all Eau Claire high schools, including the Eau Claire Virtual School and McKinley Charter School. Currently only Memorial and North high schools have student representatives on the board.
  • The board is also set to vote on removing the term “handicap” from several school district policies.
  • The board will hold a first reading of changes to the district’s policy on non-public school students participating in district courses and programs. Currently, a homeschooled or private school student can take up to two courses per semester if there is enough space in the classroom; the student must live in the Eau Claire school district. Students also currently must be full-time students to participate in extracurricular activities. If the school board votes later this month to change the policy, private school and homeschooled students will be able to take up to two high school courses per semester if they meet admission requirements and live in the district. They must also be taking no more than two courses in any public school in Wisconsin during any semester. Homeschooled students who live in the district could also participate in athletics and extracurriculars. Those students would also be responsible for their own transportation to and from the public school.

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.