by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Sixth through eighth grade students at Winona Middle School (WMS) and Winona Senior High School (WSHS) students will soon be in class five days a week for the first time since the pandemic began. WMS and WSHS will fully reopen for daily in-person learning on April 8, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) announced Wednesday.
“While this transition means more students will receive more in-person learning opportunities, it does not mean the pandemic is over,” WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit wrote in a letter to families, noting that COVID-19 protocols such as mask wearing, social distancing and quarantining if identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive will stay in place. She said that the plans are “all subject to change” and encouraged community members to keep adhering to COVID-19 protocols. She also asked community members to get tested for the coronavirus, particularly if they plan to travel over spring break.
She continued, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are almost there. This announcement is another step in the right direction. But we still need to make sure we are on this journey together.”
District leaders decided to shift learning models in April as a new quarter will start at that time. The leaders wanted to avoid learning disruptions that could accompany some students’ schedules needing to change if WAPS shifted the learning model during the current quarter, Freiheit said.
Additionally, the district predicts that staff members who wish to be vaccinated will have their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March. “That should make staffing more predictable as we return to in-person learning at all levels,” Freiheit said.
The district has been implementing hybrid learning at the Winona Area Learning Center (ALC) and will continue to do so. Some ALC students will be able to attend school four days a week in person. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade have been learning in-person on a daily basis, and they will stay in that learning model.
Before the shift to in-person learning in April, the district will put distance learning in place for WSHS students from March 15 through April 1 following spring break. The district had previously announced a distance learning period at WSHS from March 15 to 24 to try to prevent any potential outbreak from travel during spring break. WAPS leaders extended the distance learning period because of the number of cases in the district increasing recently and a projected uptick in cases after spring break.