West Salem School District flip-flopping to virtual learning, hoping to get students back ASAP

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) – West Salem was the first school district in La Crosse County to welcome back their students this semester.

School leaders say the spike in COVID cases this past week made it too risky to continue in-person learning.

“We knew going into this year, that we were gonna have to be fluid and flexible,” West Salem School District superintendent Ryan Rieber said.

Two West Salem students tested positive for the coronavirus, but that was before everyone went back. There was no exposure at school buildings.

“This closure going into next week isn’t due to an outbreak or anything within our campus here,” Rieber said.

Cases in the county are the bigger problem.

“Last week, our county and our community, we were sitting at a level that was right within where we should be. And that’s one of the reasons why we brought our kids back,” Rieber said.

Within the past seven days, the county’s weekly case rate more than tripled from 21 to 68.

“I think the conditions in the county speak for themselves,” La Crosse School District superintendent Aaron Engel said at Thursday’s health department press conference. “With this drastic increase, it’s just not as safe as it was a couple weeks ago.”

West Salem’s threshold is below 35 cases per 100,000 people each week.

“We were much hoping that we weren’t going to have to be this fluid and flexible this early into everything,” Rieber said.

Teachers and students aren’t total strangers to learning over a Zoom call.

“And we’re making this flip right now,” Rieber said. “And obviously when you make changes, you learn from your past experiences.”

But the main goal is to get the kids back.

“Our kids accomplish the most that they can accomplish when they work with our staff,” Rieber said.

The district does not want to continue flip-flopping.

“Our students have been able to come back to school,” Rieber said. “And it’s been absolutely wonderful to have that happen.”

Rieber says that’ll only happen if people continue being proactive.

“It’s really important that we pay attention to those measures that we’ve been told all along,” Rieber said.

All extracurricular activities and sports games starting next week will either be postponed or cancelled completely.