The Janesville School District has established new goals for the 2020-21 school year after COVID-19 derailed some of the district’s 2019-20 goals or made it difficult to judge progress made toward them.
Many of the 2020-21 goals are designed to keep the district headed toward its “promises,” which are five-year goals the district set out in 2017 in the hopes of improving district education and offerings by 2022.
Superintendent Steve Pophal said despite having to alter some of the strategic plan, it still influences a lot of the day-to-day experiences for staff and students.
“Our strategic plan is really our foundation and our driver for our decision-making process as we decide what kind of programming we should have in place. … We do have to pay attention to the fact that we’re a school and we’re about kids learning, their social/emotional needs, and making sure they’re fed and doing all the other things that they do in the school district,” Pophal said.
The district remains focused on reading proficiency among its third-graders.
By the end of this school year, the district hopes to increase the number of third-graders able to read at or above their grade level to 59% of students. Around 58% of students met this criteria in 2018-19, and this year’s data is incomplete because of school closures.
The district’s original goal when the promises were created was to have 90% of third-graders reading at grade level by 2022.
“Basically, the result is fairly flat here, and we’re not going up or going down,” Pophal said. “We’re not making progress toward that target that is so important.”
This goal is especially important because it can influence progress on other goals and the students’ futures.
“We know what the research says when a kid can read proficiently by the end of third grade and the implications that has for them. ... It just is very predictive, better or worse, of a lot of things that come down the pipeline,” Pophal said.
In a separate presentation, the board unanimously approved a resolution to allow the district to seek a grant in order to combat early literacy issues to help make up ground on this goal.
Other benchmarks the district hopes to hit this school year include:
The district also added new temporary goals concerning the pandemic and racial inequality: All staff must complete technology certification and racial justice training by June 30, 2021, and the district hopes to complete building health and safety protocol checklists each trimester to ensure compliance with COVID-19 precautions.
Other district goals, such as placing in the top 85% of comparative districts in parent/employee surveys; knowing every student by name, strength and need; having 90% of students completing advanced courses; and having 90% of students identifying career indicators or training by graduation, were temporarily paused as the district navigates the 2020-21 school year.
This is because some opportunities for students won’t be available at ARISE, the district’s virtual academy, because of a lack of certified staff and the influx of new students who enrolled in the academy because of the pandemic.
Two women, one wearing a plastic face shield and the other carrying at least two cloth masks in her purse, walked past a closed North Main Street tavern Tuesday afternoon.
The tavern, Legends, had a sign in the window announcing its temporary closure “due to a couple of positive COVID tests within the Legends family.”
One of the women, a Sharon resident who said her name was Sandy, was heading home from an orthodontist appointment in Janesville. Sandy said she had never seen such an elaborate setup of masking, air-cleaning machinery and sanitation rules in place like the ones at her orthodontist’s office.
Sandy had heard that Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday had extended his statewide masking mandate that was set to expire Monday. Nov. 21 is the governor’s new sunset for a mask mandate that has been in effect since August.
But, as in all things COVID-19, government mandates could change depending on the progression of the pandemic this fall.
Local residents, school officials, state lawmakers and business operators sounded off on the masking mandate Tuesday. Some support the governor’s move, while others say they accept the decision as an unsurprising development given a major spike in COVID-19 cases statewide since fall classes started at many universities.
“I think (masking) should be done. The numbers are still going up,” Sandy said.
Her workplace, a manufacturer, requires face masks, face shields or both. But she thinks small-business owners and customers in her town have grown lax about face coverings.
Sandy declined to give her last name because she said everyone she knows—co-workers, neighbors, family members—has a strong stance on masking. She didn’t want her full name associated with her stance.
Other people say they oppose Evers’ move, which came with his third declaration of a public health emergency since March. Opponents say the governor continues to exceed his powers and that his mandates should be reined in by the Legislature.
Evers extended the mask order even as his authority to issue it is being challenged by conservatives in court.
Rock County Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval said Tuesday before Evers’ announcement that she had been prepared to issue a local mask ordinance if the state’s order expired.
A local order would have been similar to Evers’ order, which mandates face coverings for everyone age 5 and older when indoors or in enclosed spaces with people they don’t live with.
Wisconsin’s COVID-19 cases have soared recently, and the state now ranks third in the country for new cases per capita, up from a ranking of 26th a month ago. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 912, an increase of nearly 104%. There were 357 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks.
COVID cases are on the rise in Rock County, too.
The county has 444 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than double the number of active cases on Sept. 1, the health department said. Six Rock County residents have died this month after weeks in July and August when no one died from COVID-19.
Rock County has seen 2,287 confirmed cases since March. Of those, 8% have been hospitalized.
Patrick Gasper, a Janesville School District spokesman, called Evers’ extension of the state mask mandate a measure that could “work in conjunction” with a districtwide expansion of masking the school board approved Tuesday night.
With no discussion, the board approved, 8-0, a proposal to require masks in all district buildings until Dec. 22, about a month longer than the state mandate. Exceptions will be made for children younger than 5 and for those whose disabilities or chronic respiratory conditions that make mask-wearing impractical. Board member Michelle Haworth was absent for the vote.
The discussion comes as Craig High School and Roosevelt Elementary School remain closed because of a small number of COVID-19 infections confirmed earlier this month.
Gasper said earlier Tuesday that the district has seen no additional COVID-19 cases this week that he is aware of. He said officials opted to keep Craig and Roosevelt closed an extra week beyond the initial Sept. 25 end date.
The two schools are set to reopen Oct. 2.
Political reaction to Evers’ new declaration broke along party lines Tuesday. It drew fire from one local Republican state senator but was praised by a local Democratic Assembly member.
State Sen. Steve Nass, a Republican from La Grange, called the masking extension “unnecessary.” He said it was another example of “illegal conduct” by the governor’s office after the state Supreme Court struck down Evers’ safer-at-home order in May.
In a statement, Nass called for an extraordinary session of the Legislature to allow an “up-or-down vote” on the latest emergency declaration.
Nass said he believes the Legislature has constitutional power to open a session and vote on Evers’ orders without the governor’s approval.
It’s a move Nass said he prefers, even if the special session serves only as a precursor to a lawsuit against Evers. He said the Legislature could pursue both actions, but he fears Republican leaders plan to “hide behind a court challenge to avoid taking an up-or-down vote.”
Nass believes it could take “weeks or months” to get a court decision. Meanwhile, he said, the state would still be under “illegal” mandates and “dictatorial” rule by Evers.
State Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Beloit Democrat, said in a statement that he is pleased Evers issued a new public health emergency and extended mask mandate.
Spreitzer said he believes the orders are spurred by a surge in COVID-19 cases statewide, which he called a “severe and increasing threat.”
“The science is clear, and we must do everything possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks and practicing physical distancing,” Spreitzer said. “Wearing masks allows us to live our lives and support our local businesses while keeping those around us safer.”
He also encouraged people to get flu shots. Health experts say getting vaccinated for the flu could prevent hospitals from becoming overcrowded at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking.
Evers has stood by Wisconsin university leaders’ decision to open dorms and allow in-person instruction despite a surge in cases on campus. Student spread of the virus has led to dorm quarantines and a shift to online-only classes on some campuses.
UW-Whitewater has reported 24 new cases of COVID-19 in students this week so far.
Twenty-three of the university’s 28 on-campus quarantine spaces are filled, and 34 of 90 isolation spaces are filled, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The quick spike in COVID-19 cases in Whitewater after students returned to campus is presenting a threat to local public health resources, said Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.
Quarantine spaces are used to separate students who have been exposed to the virus but might not have tested positive or have symptoms. Isolation spaces are for students who are infected.
Since UW-Whitewater opened its campus, the university and city of Whitewater have been at odds over how to enforce safety guidelines on and off campus.
The university allows people to report noncompliant behavior on its website.
Dan Cunningham, vice president of Forward Janesville, said the local chamber of commerce still has “no official stance” on a mask mandate.
Cunningham said he has seen almost no instances locally of employees or customers flouting statewide mask requirements or county health department mask recommendations.
Personally, Cunningham thinks wearing masks should be an individual decision. But he said the “great majority” of local business operators are cognizant of the statewide spike in COVID-19, and he thinks most have responded by continuing to require masks inside businesses.
Cunningham said he’s certain some are unhappy with a prolonged mask mandate, but the business operators he sees seem to be abiding by state masking rules.
“I rarely see anyone in a store or business here or anywhere in Wisconsin without a mask,” Cunningham said. “It’s certainly been an order that had been followed by people. It’s about what it takes for businesses to flourish, for people to keep dollars local and spend locally. If it’s going to be mask wearing, then fine.”
Less than a week after UW-Whitewater officials told the Whitewater City Council that “there isn’t anything we can do” to prevent large off-campus parties, the university has reversed course.
The state chamber of commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said in a statement Tuesday that it is seeking more clarity from Evers and the state health department on masking.
The organization said it “strongly encourages” the use of face coverings, although it has pushed back against a mask mandate, saying at best it’s a “one-size-fits-all” approach to public policy that doesn’t work evenly for all businesses.
The group reiterated its request to the governor for more clarity or alterations in the rules on masking, and it continues lobbying for plastic face shields to be considered an acceptable type of face covering.
That’s partly because some Wisconsin manufacturers have pivoted on production and now are “proudly producing” plastic face shields, the organization said.
Gazette reporter Ashley McCallum contributed to this story.
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, by far the highest in the world, hitting the once-unimaginable threshold six weeks before an election that is certain to be, in part, a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.
“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher, eight months after the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation, with its state-of-the-art laboratories, top-flight scientists and stockpiles of medical supplies.
The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.
And it is still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average, and a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in. A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until 2021.
“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said on CNN.
The bleak milestone was reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities. But the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many COVID-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.
In an interview Tuesday with a Detroit TV station, Trump boasted of doing an “amazing” and “incredible” job against the virus.
And in a prerecorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he demanded Beijing be held accountable for having “unleashed this plague onto the world.” China’s ambassador rejected the accusations as baseless.
On Twitter, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “It didn’t have to be this bad.”
“It’s a staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic—and we can’t forget that.”
For five months, America has led the world by far in sheer numbers of confirmed infections—nearly 6.9 million as of Tuesday—and deaths. The U.S. has less than 5% of the globe’s population but more than 20% of the reported deaths.
Brazil is No. 2 with about 137,000 deaths, followed by India with about 89,000 and Mexico with around 74,000. Only five countries—Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Spain and Brazil—rank higher in COVID-19 deaths per capita.
“All the world’s leaders took the same test, and some have succeeded and some have failed,” said Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency physician at Baylor College of Medicine in hard-hit Houston. “In the case of our country, we failed miserably.”
Black and Hispanic people and American Indians have accounted for a disproportionate share of the deaths, underscoring the economic and health care disparities in the U.S.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 31 million people and is closing in fast on 1 million deaths, with nearly 967,000 lives lost, by Johns Hopkins’ count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher because of gaps in testing and reporting.or the U.S., it wasn’t supposed to go this way.
When the year began, the U.S. had recently garnered recognition for its readiness for a pandemic. Health officials seemed confident as they converged on Seattle in January to deal with the country’s first known case of the coronavirus, in a 35-year-old Washington state resident who had returned from visiting his family in Wuhan, China.
On Feb. 26, Trump held up pages from the Global Health Security Index, a measure of readiness for health crises, and declared, “The United States is rated No. 1 most prepared.”
It was true. The U.S. outranked the 194 other countries in the index. Besides its labs, experts and strategic stockpiles, the U.S. could boast of its disease trackers and plans for rapidly communicating lifesaving information during a crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was respected around the world for sending help to fight infectious diseases.
But monitoring at airports was loose. Travel bans came too late. Only later did health officials realize the virus could spread before symptoms show up, rendering screening imperfect. The virus also swept into nursing homes and exploited poor infection controls, claiming more than 78,000 lives.
At the same time, gaps in leadership led to shortages of testing supplies. Internal warnings to ramp up production of masks were ignored, leaving states to compete for protective gear.
Trump downplayed the threat early on, advanced unfounded notions about the behavior of the virus, promoted unproven or dangerous treatments, complained that too much testing was making the U.S. look bad, and disdained masks, turning face coverings into a political issue.
On April 10, the president predicted the U.S. wouldn’t see 100,000 deaths. That milestone was reached May 27.
Nowhere was the lack of leadership seen as more crucial than in testing, a key to breaking the chain of contagion.
“We have from the very beginning lacked a national testing strategy,” Nuzzo said. “For reasons I can’t truly fathom, we’ve refused to develop one.”
Sandy Brown of Grand Blanc, Michigan, called the death toll “gut-wrenching.” Her husband of 35 years and their 20-year-old son—Freddie Lee Brown Jr. and Freddie Lee Brown III—died of COVID-19 just days apart in March, when there were fewer than 4,000 recorded deaths in the U.S.
“The thing that really gets to me is ... if things had been done properly, we could have put a lid on this,” said Brown, who has no other children. “Now it’s just unbelievable. It’s devastating.”
The real number of dead from the crisis could be significantly higher: As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. from all causes during the first seven months of 2020, according to CDC figures. The death toll from COVID-19 during the same period was put at about 150,000 by Johns Hopkins.
Researchers suspect some coronavirus deaths were overlooked, while other deaths may have been caused indirectly by the crisis, by creating such turmoil that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease were unable or unwilling to get treatment.
Dark, the emergency physician at Baylor, said that before the crisis, “people used to look to the United States with a degree of reverence. For democracy. For our moral leadership in the world. Supporting science and using technology to travel to the moon.”
“Instead,” he said, “what’s really been exposed is how anti-science we’ve become.”
Peter A. Behrens
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