River Valley School District moves to all-virtual instruction

Due to an increase in COVID-19 positive cases and exposures within the District, the entire River Valley District moved to a full virtual model beginning Tuesday, Nov. 10 and continuing until Monday, Nov. 30. All high school co-curricular activities will continue as scheduled.

The school district asks that, “parents of students exhibiting flu-like symptoms are asked to continue to contact a school nurse and primary care provider.” 

In addition, if a student has an exposure to COVID-19, parents/guardians should continue to contact school nursing staff or the building secretary. 

 Valley Sentinel spoke with River Valley School District Administrator Loren Glasbrunner about the move to all-virtual instruction.

Valley Sentinel: What factors will be used to determine how students will finish the rest of the semester, after Nov. 30? 

Loren Glasbrenner: Daily, our district team (administration with our school nurse) analyzes our absences to build statistics around COVID-19.  We are able to investigate this data for each building and contact health departments from Sauk, Richland, Iowa, and Dane Counties for support, if necessary.  Data drives the decisions on which mode of instruction we choose for the families in our district. 

VS: Do you believe that the intervening time will be long enough to stall community spread and bring students back into the physical classroom? Should we expect students to be back in the classroom this calendar year?

LG: We cannot “stall community spread” without community help.  Our goal is to teach students in person.  We cannot predict what data will look like in the weeks to come, but we certainly hope for the best.  Our community needs to support CDC guidelines for the safety of our students.

VS: You stated several times in your releases that the determinations to close individual schools are based on “COVID-19 investigations,” what does that entail? 

LG: We gain information from families, clinics, and the counties of our students.  This information is used to start an investigation to determine which staff/students may have been affected.  Building administration and our school nurse investigates the implications of a particular exposure.

VS: With respect to contact tracing, while you’ve stated there has been an increase in cases and exposures, is there any indication at this time that any COVID-19 transmission is happening at school?  

LG: We are unsure of how COVID-19 is being transmitted more recently.  Earlier in the year, the county was able to assist the district with tracing and transmission risk.  And, at that time, we were able to make direct connections to a source. While the county staff are continuing to support us, it has become increasingly dependent on our staff to investigate the cases.  At the same time, we have become more uncertain of the source of exposure. 

VS: Did the resignation of school nurse Janelle Sivam factor into the decision to move to all-virtual instruction? 

LG: No, that did not affect the decision at all.

VS: When does the district anticipate hiring a new nurse?  The newly-budgeted COVID investigator?  

LG: Those staff hirings will be announced at a River Valley School District school board meeting. 

VS: Students have already been learning in a hybrid setting this school year, with limited virtual instruction, however this move to all-virtual instruction may pose some difficulties for rural students with no or limited access to an adequate Internet connection, what resources is the district providing to these students? 

LG: The district provides learning devices (Chromebooks for students in grades 3-12), we provide support for this technology, and we have provided cellular “hot-spots” for families (if needed).  ​Last spring, ​parents/guardians complete​d​ a technology survey​;  we ​continue to work with families that do not have Internet access.​  ​Access to adequate Internet connections is a crucial area of concern for many families.  I have reached out to​ a​ local legislator to continue to find ways to improve access for students in our district.  More than 40% of rural residents lack access to high-speed internet, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which directly affects our district’s circumstances during the pandemic.

VS: What is the current number of COVID-19 cases in each building/school? Staff vs. students? Please note that this request is not seeking any identifying, FERPA or HIPAA protected information.

LG: We do not publish this information.

High school co-curricular activities

River Valley High School co-curriculars are continuing as the district moves to all-virtual instruction. With football playoffs, swimming state competition, and winter sports all upcoming, Valley Sentinel spoke with River Valley School District Activities Director Jaime Hegland about the decision.

 Valley Sentinel: Extracurriculars are continuing while the district pivots to all-virtual instruction, what weighed into making that decision?

Jaime Hegland: Much weighed in on this decision.  We believe it’s important to offer opportunities for our students that help give them purpose and can provide some sense of normalcy during our current situation.   Co-curricular and athletics are not compulsory, students and their families choose to be involved.  Our co-curricular and athletic student groups are lower in numbers than our total student population.  Each of the teams and activity groups have designated practice/rehearsal places and a relatively constant grouping of students/coaches.   

 VS: With cases and exposures rising, are there any extra measures being taken during extracurricular practices and events? Screening? Testing?

JH: All of the participants go through daily symptom screenings and temperature scans as they enter their designated practice/competition facility.  We utilize established district cleaning protocols, along with the WIAA sport specific guidelines for play.  

Editor’s Note: Valley Sentinel has submitted a public records request to the school district for the COVID-19 case numbers used to make the decision to move to all-virtual. We have not heard back as of press time.

COVID-19 numbers change each day and under normal circumstances, regarding day-to-day decisions, those dynamic numbers in the schools may not have a lot of informational value to the community. But recent case increases have led the district to make the decision to move to all-virtual instruction. That informational number of cases that was used to inform the decision is static as of the change to all-virtual instruction and thus has significant informational value to our community, especially if there is a clear increase in cases week-over-week. Due to the fact that the numbers are quickly outdated, we do not anticipate requesting dynamic numbers from the schools when the district moves back to physical instruction, unless a major decision like this is made again.

When we hear back from the district and when we receive the case numbers, we will update the story online and in print.