The K-12 Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe School announced it would be going to an all virtual format again starting Monday, Nov. 16, for middle and high school students and Tuesday, Nov. 17, for elementary students.

Principal/Superintendent Jessica Hutchison said on Monday the school had too many staff out on quarantine or awaiting results of COVID testing for themselves or their children.

“It’s gotten to a point we don’t have enough subs to cover all the places we need to cover,” she said.

Hutchinson said the goal is to have all the students back on campus on Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“We will evaluate that more next week once we have more ideas of numbers of our staff,” she said. “It’s entirely possible that we will be partially virtual following the Thanksgiving break, but we are hoping to be back in person to some degree.”

The school went virtual the first three weeks of the academic year, but the last eight weeks has utilized face-to-face learning.

“Up until this point we’ve been really lucky to avoid cases and outbreaks within the school and among the staff and amongst the students, but that has been less likely as the number of new cases increases in the county,” she said.

The number of COVID-19 in Sawyer County is rising rapidly, causing concerns for public safety. Sawyer County Public Health reported 660 total cases as Monday, Nov. 16, up 149 from Monday, Nov. 9, when 511 was reported. This is the largest increase the county has experienced since COVID has been tracked.

“We have a super vulnerable community already,” Hutchison said. “We have a ton of kids who live with grandparents and people with at-risk health conditions. We are trying to be as safe as we can be.”

Hutchison said the school has been following all COVID-19 recommendations regarding masking, washing hands and social distancing

Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons has been very impressed at how all three school systems in the county — LCO, Hayward and Winter — have been following recommendations and curtailing the spread of COVID amongst staff and students.

But Hutchinson said the spread of COVID-19 in the county has risen to such a level that it is impacting the schools, no matter what the schools are doing.

“I think we did everything that was possible to keep kids safe and keep them in face-to-face (classes), but right now I think we are reaching a tipping point and something has got to give,” she said.

Regarding virtual learning, Hutchison said most of her students have access to virtual learning via the Internet. She has more concern for younger students with older parents and grandparents who are not aware of how virtual learning works.

Lastly, Hutchison offers a challenge to the county residents to follow COVID-19 guidelines, especially wearing masks when out in public to control the spread of the disease.

“If I have kindergarteners wearing masks for seven or eight hours a day, there is no reason an adult shouldn’t wear one,” she said.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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