Pandemic Complicates School-Reopening Guidelines: Different Schools, Different Plans for School Start 2021-22

This year, the notion of “back to school” takes on added meaning. From the tip of Door County to its southern edge, school leaders share the common goals of keeping as many students as possible in school for in-classroom learning. All will require masks for school-bus passengers, per federal mandate. And all of the public school districts’ leaders said they would adjust their plans and coronavirus-prevention precautions as necessary.

Other than that, the districts’ methods for coping with the pandemic differed, as of early August.

For example, Gibraltar set down rules early in the summer requiring masks for all preschool through sixth-grade students. The requirement for sixth-graders comes because 12-year-olds are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, but their 13-year-old classmates are, and teachers and administrators would have difficulty distinguishing between those who are vaccinated and those who are not. 

In July, the FDA said vaccines for ages 12 and younger likely would not become available until the winter. The availability of those vaccines for younger students may allow, as the school year progresses, an easing of facial coverings for younger students at Gibraltar, according to the school board’s Aug. 9 discussion.

Southern Door’s school board, meanwhile – at least as of Aug. 15 – preferred to make it optional for students to wear masks, while staying open to the prospect of tightening rules in case of outbreaks.

“We’re going to monitor our local exposure levels so we can decide if we can loosen or tighten it up,” said Southern Door Superintendent Chris Peterson. “Our plan is to be flexible. We will do whatever it takes to keep kids in school and safe.”


First day of school: Wednesday, Sept. 1

Pandemic Protocols

Southern Door school was first among the county’s public schools in 2020-21 to set and adhere to a goal to open its doors to all students for in-classroom learning during the 2020-21 academic year.

Board members, staff members and administrators at the school near Brussels have loosened protocols further prior to this school year. In preliminary plans as of early August, Southern Door planned to continue requiring students to sit in assigned seats on the bus but to reduce the assigned spacing between students in classrooms, activities, lunch and the bus from six feet to three feet.

“I haven’t heard any complaints so far,” said Southern Door’s new superintendent, Chris Peterson, but that was before three separate meetings prior to the school year: a board retreat, a meeting with staff and faculty, and a public meeting. He anticipated sending firmer, more detailed back-to-school plans to families Aug. 17 or 18.

Contact Tracing, Remote Learning

Southern Door officials want to leave contact tracing to public-health officials rather than having educators and school employees handle health tasks that are “not really in our wheelhouse,” Peterson said. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 or a variant, that student would need to quarantine for 10 days. In those cases, Southern Door could arrange for the student to view classes from home. 


Southern Door assigned entrances for students based on their grade levels last year and will continue that practice this year. Peterson said he thinks that practice will stay in place for many years to come. “It is much more convenient for our kids to have assigned entries, and it’s much more organized,” he said.

Sturgeon Bay School District. Photo by Brett Kosmider.


First day of school: Wednesday, Sept. 1

Pandemic Protocols

As of early August, facial coverings will be optional for students, staff members and visitors, Superintendent Dan Tjernagel reported. Sturgeon Bay provided a great deal of synchronous online learning during the past school year, and the board would like to avoid that this year as much as possible.

“If there is a COVID-19 outbreak at a school this year, a variety of safety measures and mitigation options would be considered, including facial coverings, in order to continue to allow students to attend school in person,” Tjernagel said.

The district can change plans and tighten rules if necessary.

“Our preference is to return to a more sustainable system than last year, consisting of more traditional practices and procedures appropriate for each school,” Tjernagel said.

Facilities Changes

Parents, students and staff can expect some temporary adjustments as contractors wrap up a $16.8 million, district-wide project that included last year’s four-classroom addition to Sawyer Elementary, which will accommodate four-year-old kindergarten through second grade this year.

The project also included closing the district’s oldest building, Sunset Elementary, this past spring; security improvements and a new entrance to the high school; and district-wide measures to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“The biggest change at the secondary [high school and middle school] campus is that student traffic only is focused at the rear of the high school,” Tjernagel said. Parents can drop off or pick up students at the front of the building, and the new bus-stop area will occupy a new carve-out along the end of the building outside the high school commons.

Some construction-related disruptions could occur, and contractors will complete certain projects such as cabling at night.

Gibraltar Area School District. Photo by Brett Kosmider.


First day of school: Tuesday, Sept. 7

Pandemic Protocols

Gibraltar School published a 20-page “reopening handbook” on its website and provided the handbook to parents, noting the requirement of facial coverings for all students in sixth grade and younger. Masks will be optional for seventh-graders and older, but facial coverings are required on the bus.

The district guide states that “in-school teaching and in-school learning are the best and preferred design for a Gibraltar education.” For students who cannot be in class, such as those in quarantine or those with health conditions, the district will have computers and cameras in place so teachers can provide the same instruction to students who are not in class. 

Water bottles and disposable cups will be provided for students to fill at bottle-filling stations, and hand sanitizer will be readily available throughout the school. Students and employees may not enter the school if they have COVID-19 symptoms, and visitors must wear masks.

Students may not take birthday or holiday classroom treats. Students in grades K-6 must wear masks in school lunch lines, but they may remove the masks while eating at their assigned tables. Students in grades 7-12 are “encouraged to socially distance while eating.”

Superintendent Tina Van Meer said Gibraltar’s reopening plan is subject to change “based on the ever-changing conditions caused by this pandemic.” For instance, the Centers for Disease Control in August began increasing some advisories to wear masks in response to an accelerating spread of a COVID-19 variant.


Gibraltar has provided parents and students with detailed instructions on their assigned access points to the buildings, and the district has staggered scheduling to limit contact between students from different parts of the buildings. The classroom teacher or an aide will walk with students to the bus.

At least at the beginning of the school year, the district will limit interaction among different age groups, almost to a one-room-schoolhouse framework for the younger students. Parents must stay in vehicles when picking up and dropping off students.

Sevastopol school’s old front side near Highway 57 has become the back, and contractors are continuing work on a $25.1 million addition and renovation project. The public is invited to a grand opening and open house at the school Aug. 22, 2 pm. “There will be self-guided tours with staff members posted in different locations to talk about the different spaces,” said Superintendent Kyle Luedtke. Photo by Craig Sterrett.


First day of school: Tuesday, Sept. 7

Pandemic Protocols

Masks will be optional for all students. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, or if someone within the student’s household tests positive, that student will be required to remain out of school for 10 days, said Superintendent Kyle Luedtke, and “staff will follow the same procedure.”

Sevastopol school officials will not get involved in contact tracing, leaving it up to Door County Public Health officials based on a student’s “close proximity” to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

Sevastopol can loosen or tighten rules as needed as the school year progresses, Luedtke said.


Contractors are finishing a $25 million demolition, renovation and addition project, so parents, students and teachers will have some new directions to learn before and after school.

Until all the rubble is gone from the demolished, 98-year-old, northeast portion of the school, some of the teacher and staff parking will be unavailable. On weekdays, some teachers can park in the church lot northeast of the school until their parking spaces become available on the north side of the building, Luedtke said.

The Highway 57 side of the school has become the back of the building and bus stop. The south side has become the new front entrance as well as the location for student drop-off and pickup by parents. Some routing may change to ensure optimum, safe traffic flow.

All rooms in the new addition will be ready for students to occupy. Some flooring has not yet arrived for the newly renovated portion of the building constructed in 1965, so some classrooms will have concrete flooring for a while. School officials and industrial-arts teachers were still waiting for more equipment and tools, but they’ve been “arriving every day,” Luedtke said. The new greenhouse is mostly complete, but an irrigation system and some tables still need installation.


First day of school: Wednesday, Sept. 1

Pandemic Protocols

Washington Island is following the same masking-optional plans as Sevastopol, Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door schools at this time. Facial coverings are required on the district’s bus. The district will work to maintain social-distancing guidelines of three to six feet. The district will require a 10-day quarantine for students who are positive for COVID-19 or students who have a household member who is positive.

The district plans to reopen to in-person student attendance, without a remote “hybrid” option for out-of-school attendance. Sue Cornell, superintendent of business services, said that by the end of the school year this spring, almost all students were back in the school building. 

The school board anticipated approval of an official reopening plan on Aug. 17, while also expecting that the district’s COVID-19-related protocols would continue to change throughout the school year, Cornell said.

All cleaning protocols that were put in place last year will remain, and as the school year opens, the district will continue to stagger the lunch periods and keep students spaced apart in the lunchroom.

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