Local School Leaders Relieved as New COVID-19 Cases Fall

For the past two weeks at least, COVID-19 cases have taken a dip that Door County school leaders have found refreshing.

On Monday, Southern Door Superintendent Chris Peterson said the district had just one student test positive for coronavirus and had no verified cases among teachers. 

“It’s a good sign our mitigation strategies have been working,” Peterson said, noting that employees have helped the district stay flexible in how it has handled the various phases of the pandemic.

He told the school board he wanted to celebrate the cooperation from the public and employees after he called for campus-wide mandatory masking in late January in the wake of a major spike in cases in the district and countywide. 

Peterson also saluted teachers and employees for pitching in for extra teaching sessions as substitutes or pulling duty in the lunchroom and at bus stops. When double-digit percentages of students and teachers missed school in late January, some teachers took on extra students. When some grade levels came up short on teachers, Southern Door split some classrooms, temporarily expanding some class sizes.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, following discussion of recent successes in closing the achievement gap between a majority of students and subgroups such as economically disadvantaged pupils, Southern Door board president Penny Price said it was nice to spend less time talking about health matters at a meeting.

“It’s been nice having things slow down with COVID, and it’s been nice to be talking about curriculum,” Price said. “I thank the teachers and everyone who helped us get through the big wave [of illnesses] a few weeks ago.”

Similar expressions of relief came last week from Gibraltar Schools Superintendent Tina Van Meer. At Gibraltar, which had the most consistent mandatory-masking policies in the county, Van Meer said that if trends as of Feb. 14 continue, she might, for the first time, make mask wearing optional for kindergarten through fifth grade in late February. 

On Jan. 24, new COVID-19 cases were critically high in Door County. By Feb. 14, that had subsided to “very high.” About 20% of Gibraltar students were absent Jan. 24, and on Feb. 14, that percentage had fallen to 5.3%.

Van Meer said she would still like to see higher vaccination rates.