More than half of the recorded positive COVID-19 cases seen in Verona Area School District students were confirmed in the first full week of January.
At the same time, the district is dealing with a significant number of its teachers out – some with COVID-19, but others out for a variety of other reasons.
District superintendent Tremayne Clardy showed the Verona Area Board of Education the updated dashboard during the Monday, Jan. 10, meeting that had 262 students testing positive between Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, more than half of the 505 students who have tested positive since the start of the 2021-22 school year. Over a third of those cases have been in Verona Area High School students, with 105 cases; the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the last week have been diagnosed in Badger Ridge Middle School students, with 43 new cases.
Clardy told board members that despite seeing more than half of the district’s recorded cases in the past week, administrators were still dedicated to providing in-person education, five days a week, but wanted to give transparency as to what district staff are dealing with at the moment.
“Our students and families have been adhering to our mitigation strategies … many of these were numbers coming out of (winter) break, these are not students who reported to school,” he said.
The middle and high schools have seen the highest jump in the percentage of cases in the last week. At the high school, 60.1% of all cases occurred within the last seven days, while Badger Ridge had nearly two out of every three cases reported in the same time frame. Savanna Oaks Middle School had slightly more than half of cases in its students reported in the past seven days.
Other district sites are on par with having around half of cases in their students being identified in the past week. Verona Area International School is the exception, with none of its students having tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week.
Of the 505 students who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year, a third have been high school students.
Dane County has been recording record case levels in the past week, with numerous records of cases being reported throughout the last two weeks as cases have risen by nearly 80% over a two-week span. The current record of cases reported stands at 2,115 new cases on Friday, Jan. 7, with a weekly rate of 1,566 cases per 100,000 people.
Staffing has also been a challenge in the last week, as the district sees record numbers of its students testing positive. During the week of Jan. 3-7, between approximately 10% and 18% of district staff were absent, according to data presented to school board members. Jan. 7 had the highest number of staff out, with 140 absent. During the week, the percentage of absences covered by substitute teachers dropped from 62.5% on Jan. 3, down to 46.1% on Jan. 7.
While the staff absences can’t all be explained by positive COVID-19 and close contact exposures, Clardy said, having teachers and central office staff fill the gaps has been putting strain on operations.
“We know what that means in terms of teacher workload, teacher burnout, and not being able to utilize prep time, or what would have been their prep time, because they’re now going in to support other classrooms,” he said. “I wanted to relay a real message of what’s happening, and tell you that each building I’ve gone into, (I’ve seen) how our staff has really wrapped supports around each other, because we still know our ultimate goal is to keep our students and our staff in school, five days a week, in in-person instruction.”
The Verona Area School District is tentatively looking to make masking optional starting second semester.
Verona Press education reporters have compiled what they think are the five biggest things to look out for in the upcoming school year that starts Wednesday, Sept. 1.