EDITORIAL: Shutdown for two weeks now—or forfeit the school year


Occasionally, when perhaps a devil’s advocate is needed or more circumstances should be considered, we find ourselves at odds with our readers in our very unscientific weekly (okay, okay, it’s semi-regular at best) social media poll. This is one of those occasions.

In Valley Sentinel’s poll on social media, 70% of readers did not agree the River Valley School District should shut down for two weeks to stop the further spread of COVID-19, with 30% agreeing.

The River Valley School District announced earlier this week that there were confirmed, positive cases of COVID-19 in both the middle school and high school— following a handful of positive cases in the elementary schools.

For the first week in some time, every village in the school district is reporting at least one positive case. Sauk County has continued to be an outlier, with a nearly 71% positive test rate as the number of overall tests goes down, and 61 positive cases this past week compared to Iowa County’s 12 and Richland County’s 4. Spring Green alone represents nearly 11.5% of the county’s cases this week, at 7 cases.

Many are getting vaccinated, and many more need to do so. Unfortunately, many students are ineligible for the vaccine as of right now. That will change in the coming weeks. What doesn’t change is the fact that we know these variants are more transmissible, we know these variants are more likely to infect children — and with these variants now being identified in our counties, why take the risk?

This brings the district to a divisive crossroads, to shut everything down, move to virtual instruction and quarantine every student and staff member for 14 days (we understand 10 day, with athletics and activities continuing is most likely) or quarantine just the positive individuals and their close contacts, but allow non-exposed students and staff for in-person instruction, as well as athletics and activities, to continue in person and co-curriculars continue. Currently the district has taken the latter route.

We’re here this week to play devil’s advocate on that: shut down the district for two weeks, move to virtual instruction, or you’ll end up forfeiting the rest of the school year to the virus.

This seems to be the first outbreak the district has grappled with in a while, and if the district decides to continue in-person instruction, it likely won’t be the last outbreak before the school year ends. Forcing students and staff to endure that whiplash — the back and forth of in-person learning, outbreak, right back to virtual instruction, and maybe back again.

It’s no doubt that with a back and forth like that, not only will students’ education suffer but their ability to relish and enjoy the end-of-the-school year activities and excitement will suffer as well. This, compared to the consistency of shutting down for two weeks to control (or at least mitigate) further spread of the virus, gives students a fighting chance to end their less-than-normal school year on a high note, less tinged with inconsistency and chaos.

Two weeks virtual instruction now, with perhaps athletics and activities continuing, gives students a chance to finish out their seasons, it gives seniors the chance of a graduation. Better to “take away” two weeks than to take away graduation. Otherwise we risk graduation cancellation at best, or a graduation super spreader event at worst.

We’ve seen various comments from people who say a shut down shouldn’t happen because the students deserve to have something, anything during the last few weeks of a school year that was filled with constant unknowns, challenges and disappointments. And yes, absolutely yes. We feel so, so, so much for these students who haven’t gotten to have a fun, normal school experience, their lives and memories will forever be marked by this pandemic.

There is a certain trauma that comes along with this past year, and it’s devastating that students so young now have to battle that. That’s why these two weeks are so vital—while everything still shuts down, stopping these outbreaks would allow them to finish strong with the remainder of their sports seasons, with their graduation or whatever it is they are looking forward to at the end of the year — it would give them that normalcy we’re all clutching to.

Two weeks now or you forfeit the rest of the school year. We hope we’re wrong.