When the Bangor School Board of Education last met in July, it approved a COVID protocol response plan. “I thought we were sitting in a really good place and a lot has changed in a month,” said Superintendent David Brokopp.
For the most part the plan will stay intact, but there have been some adaptations made to the original draft, which has been relabeled as an adaptive plan. The district will continue to look at the plan and Brokopp expects the item will be on the agenda for every meeting in the near future.
“Hopefully we don’t get to this point, but I could see us coming to a special meeting to address concerns,” Brokopp said.
Bangor District Nurse Tami Brownell informed the board that on August 10, La Crosse County reported the case rate among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals was 204 per 100,000 and the weekly case rate among vaccinated individuals was 57.1 per 100,000 per week.
“Unvaccinated individuals have a higher incidence of infection than vaccinated individuals, however, there is a rise in case rate among vaccinated individuals as well,” Brownell said. “The dominant COVID strain right now is the Delta variant, and this variant is two times more contagious than the original strain of COVID.”
Brownell added that there has been increasing infections among school-aged kids with more severe illness. “I know one of our school districts has a student in the ICU right now with complications from COVID,” Brownell said, adding that Gundersen Health has reopened their COVID unit.
La Crosse County has currently ranked its COVID transmission level as “high.” According to CDC guidance, districts are being advised to strongly recommend, promote, and encourage mask wearing for all people aged two and up while inside schools regardless of vaccination status.
As a district, BSD will follow the recommendation by encouraging mask wearing for all staff and students but will not however mandate or require universal mask wearing at this time.
“We continue to strongly encourage eligible people to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” Brownell said. “Vaccines play a crucial role in limiting the spread of viruses and minimizing severe disease. Vaccines are highly effective but they’re not perfect.”
Brownell added that there have been infections among vaccinated individuals, however, they tend to have milder symptoms and recover more quickly.
“I think it’s important that we hear and understand that that’s the situation we’re up against and understand that things are changing,” Brokopp said. “We acknowledge there are lots of things that go into preventing the spread of COVID-19. I also think it’s important that we are respectful to people’s personal beliefs.”
Brokopp reiterated that the new adaptive plan follows the recommendations to strongly encourage masking in all environments, especially indoors.
Due to federal mandates, the district is required to continue to mandate universal masking on school buses. Parents should send children to the school bus each day with proper masks.
Instruction for the fall will still be face to face for all grade levels from 4K to grade 12. Diverting from a face-to-face model for more than three consecutive days would be a school board approved decision in response to a dramatic increase based on La Crosse County data.
The district will be adding the element of testing. Staff have already met with its testing company and will have access to antigen testing and PCR testing at the school.
“We plan to use a model that is for diagnostic testing,” Brokopp added. “If somebody is a close contact or experiencing symptoms while here at school, we could perform a test and notify parents within 24 hours.”
Brokopp explained that it would help determine length of quarantine quicker as well. “It is completely a personal choice that will be made by the family for their children.”
The district could also offer event testing at a school dance for example or outbreak testing among an entire grade level if it needed to, however at this time it will stick with diagnostic testing.
Another change to the plan is quarantining, which has been adapted to more closely follow the protocols set by the county health department.
Cleaning practices will be continually reviewed and updated throughout the school year; adjustable plans have already been put in place.
The use of drinking fountains will be prohibited; students will be encouraged to bring water bottles from home and will have access to cups to fill with water.
The district would like to allow field trips again this school year if possible and if conditions are acceptable. Students participating in field trips would be required to wear a mask.
Visitors will be allowed into the buildings again this year. Fundraising will also be allowed again this year with administrative approval, however, door-to-door fundraising will be highly discouraged for student participation.
“Our hope is to make school feel as normal as possible,” Brokopp said. “I think it was clear to everyone that last year was a challenge and our hope is to be able to continue to plan accordingly so we can do that safely.”