Onalaska, Holmen school districts prepare for some students to head back to in-person learning next week

LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT)– Some students in Onalaska and Holmen are headed back to school next Monday, despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in the county. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said La Crosse County has ‘very high’ case activity and the trajectory shows growing in cases. However, the superintendents for both districts say the county considers the trend to be ‘steady’.

If you look at both districts’ COVID-19 dashboards, you’d see that some metrics are still in the red or orange, indicating the need for virtual learning. But Onalaska School District Superintendent Todd Antony said favorable conditions, like the 7-day case rate per 100,000 people, were coming down to the point where they were close enough.

Onalaska's latest dashboard numbers

Onalaska’s latest dashboard numbers. Red suggests all virtual learning. Yellow suggests some in-person and blended learning.

Holmen's latest COVID-19 dashboard numbers.

Holmen’s latest COVID-19 dashboard numbers. Red suggests all virtual. Orange represents a mix of in-person, hybrid and virtual learning. Yellow suggests in-person or hybrid learning.

“[To the point] where the consideration of reopening became a reality,” said Antony.

They say using metrics set by the Harvard Global Health Institue for reopening only go so far. It’s also about making sure you have mitigation strategies ready.

“So that when students do return, that you’re able to operate as [safely] as possible,” said Kristin Mueller, administrator for the Holmen School District.

La Crosse, West Salem, Onalaska and Holmen have been collaborating on their learning models. But differences in the number of students, classroom capacities and staffing all impact how they return.

“All of our districts definitely have some unique characteristics,” Mueller said.

In Onalaska, pre-k through 8th grade will be in person five days a week with the high school under a hybrid model. They’re reallocating staff for smaller class sizes.

“The number of the students will be determined by how many students we can accommodate in the physical space to maintain social distancing,” Antony said.

In Holmen, 4k through 5th grade will be in person with the middle school under a hybrid model. The high school will remain all virtual until they go to a hybrid model on Nov. 9.

But some students in both districts, because of their needs or other factors, have already been at the schools.

“Knowing that we have done that successfully and also learning from what has worked well for them, that really bring confidence to the return of more students,” Mueller said.

“We learned a lot from those experiences and have grown and altered our plans and made adjustments all in anticipation of students coming back,” Antony said.

The districts are requiring masks, increasing cleaning, and are investing in contact tracers. While they can only control what’s happening at school, they also urge students and families to also follow best practices after class.

Meanwhile, other districts will not be returning to in-person learning any time soon. The La Crosse School District was considering it, but decided to remain all virtual learning because of current COVID-19 trends. A full Facebook Live interview with the district’s superintendent about that decision can be found below. The interview starts around the nine-minute mark.