With the new school year set to begin Wednesday, Sept. 1, in three area school districts, some questions remain as to what COVID-19 guidelines will be in place for students and staff.

With the Delta variant causing an increase in postive COVID-19 cases across Wisconsin and the United States, state and federal health officials are urging people to wear mask indoors for protection. 

District administrators at Northland Pines, Three Lakes and Phelps are preparing for the first day of class Sept. 1, the earlist date that schools can start according to state law. But they admit there are some questions as to what the mask requirements might be when students come through the doors in two weeks.

All three school boards are expected to meet this week or next week to make their recommendations to school administrators.



Northland Pines

At the Northland Pines School District, educators are trying to get back to as normal a school environment as possible in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

“We’re planning to be open five days a week like we did last year,” said Northland Pines District Administrator Scott Foster. “Our plan for return right now, masks are recommended but not required, which means they are optional . . . We’re leaving that (decision) to individual parents.”

That being said, Foster said the situation is still fluid.

“We have a (school) board meeting on Aug. 23 where all that will be finalized — whether we change it based on the data that continues to change or if we leave it (masking guidance) where it is,” he said, noting many familiar district COVID health and safety protocols implemented last school year will remain in effect. 

“We realize this variant and all the things have not gone away, so that’s why we’re reviewing all the data, working with the local health department, to put together a plan for returning on Sept. 1,” said Foster.

The first day of school in the Northland Pines School District will be Wednesday, Sept. 1. There will be no school on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6.

Information about the back to school open houses can be found in a related story or online at npsd.k12.wi.us. 

A district school supply list is also posted on the district website.

“We’re really excited,”?Foster said of the upcoming school year. “We’ve been working hard throughout the pandemic to make our schools better. We certainly wish the pandemic wasn’t still around but we’re going to make the best of it like we did last year and do it again. We’re excited to get things a little closer to normal, but we understand we need to take it a day at a time to make sure we’re doing that safely.”



Three Lakes

Three Lakes School District Administrator Teri Maney is also waiting for clarification regarding COVID-19 masking protocols for the 2021-’22 school year, with the Three Lakes School Board scheduled to convene its next meeting Aug. 18.

“The board will discuss at length what we will be doing as far as policy goes,” Maney said. “What I can tell you now is end of last school year we had gone to a masking optional policy and that remains in place at this time. That will be discussed. At his point, masking still is optional, unless the board changes its mind.

“We’re keeping cleaning procedures, trying to keep our class sizes a little bit smaller — things like that from last year. We’re still using a lot of those mitigation strategies. We’re going to continue to keep the building environment as safe as we possibly can,”?Maney said. 

The Three Lakes School District will kick off the 2021-’22 school year  Wednesday, Sept. 1. There will be no school on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6.

A back-to-school open house will be held in advance of the new school year on Monday, Aug. 30, from 4-7 p.m.

More information, including a 2021-’22 school supply list, is available at threelakessd.k12.wi.us.



Phelps

The first day of school in the Phelps School District will be Wednesday, Sept. 1, with classes in session in the morning only from 7:50 a.m. to noon. There will be no school on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6.

In advance of the start of the 2021-’22 school year, the district will host a back-to-school open house Thursday, Aug. 26 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

The district will have a new bus transportation provider this year, as Eagle River-based Schilleman Bus Service takes over district bus routes from 17-year provider North Winds Bus Service. 

The Phelps School Board approved a five-year contract with Schilleman Bus Service on July 21. 

More information regarding bus service, as well as a 2021-’22 school supply list, is available online at phelps.k12.wi.us. 

District Administrator Delnice Hill said specific information about district COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including masking, would be available after the Phelps School Board meeting Aug. 18. 



DPI weighs in


On Aug. 9, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued guidance strongly recommending use of updated COVID-19 guidelines in school buildings when implementing local responses to the pandemic for the 2021-’22 school year, including mask wearing, physical distancing and increased mitigation efforts. 

“As a former Wisconsin school district leader who led a school district through COVID last year, I know many students and families desire in-person learning and a safe return to the classroom in the fall,” said State Superintendent Jill Underly. “We want schools open for in-person instruction. And we want to keep kids, educators and families safe. The joint guidance we are strongly recommending districts follow provides a road map for a safe return to in-person learning.:

As part of the DPI’s updated guidelines, schools are encouraged to require masks for all children and adults while indoors and use layered mitigation and prevention measures.

Masking on all public transportation, including school buses, is still required under order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Layered mitigation and prevention measures outlined in the guidance include promoting COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students and staff; promoting correct mask use, encouraging physical distancing; screening and testing of students and staff experiencing symptoms, and enhanced cleaning and detection. 

“To ensure our schools stay open to in-person instruction, it is essential districts do everything they can to keep kids, staff and families safe,”?Underly said. “With almost half a million children in our public schools currently unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, they remain vulnerable and susceptible to infection. Our schools must take appropriate measures and utilize available resources to ensure the safety of their students and staff. That includes wearing masks while indoors and utilizing other strategies and mitigation measures outlined in our updated guidance.”

The DPI’s recommendations were created in consultation with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s K-12 school guidance. 

The DPI’s updated guidelines are available in full at dpi.wi.gov.