To “prevent a breakout of COVID-19,” the Janesville School District is suspending face-to-face instruction at Craig High School and Roosevelt Elementary School starting Tuesday until at least Friday, Sept. 25, according to a district email to parents.
“The School District of Janesville continues to monitor the situation regarding COVID-19 in the greater community, and is following the protocols/plans put in place with guidance from the Rock County Public Health Department,” the email reads.
“In order to protect the public and prevent a breakout of COVID-19, Craig High School will close face-to-face instruction at the end of the school day today, Monday, September 14, 2020.”
Today will not be a day of instruction, but students and parents will receive more information on how the pivot works and a schedule. Virtual instruction for Craig and Roosevelt will begin Wednesday.
The closure will continue until at least Sept. 25, when the district will re-examine the situation before making a decision.
As of Friday, three students across district elementary schools had tested positive, and six high school-age students had also tested positive. There were additional cases over the weekend that sparked the decision, but district officials didn’t have the exact number of positive tests available from the health department Monday, said Patrick Gasper, district spokesman.
In-person instruction began on the first day of school Sept. 2, when some Craig students shared with The Gazette both optimism and reservations about returning to school.
Craig parents and students interviewed Monday afternoon were split on the pivot to virtual education.
Dylan Dobb spent the last school year at ARISE. He chose the hybrid model this year to get more hands-on help with math and English but said he looks forward to learning online again.
“I was honestly kind of excited,” he said of the pivot. “I think there’s just something about being home that’s nice.”
Rebecca Crain feels differently. Her freshman daughter, Trianya, has an individualized education program—or IEP—through the district’s special education program, and Crain worries about regression.
“I’m going to be honest. I was outraged,” she said. “I was upset because they haven’t been in school, what, six days? … I already know she’s going to be upset about it. She’s just now getting into the school groove again, and now this happens.”
“They need to seriously reconsider this whole situation,” Crain said.
Crain hopes the district will consider allowing special education students to continue learning in person with help from paraprofessionals and their IEPs.
The confirmed positive cases mean more contact tracing and close contact letters need to be completed, Gasper said. Staff at Craig High School spent about four hours Sunday conducting contact tracing.
The email to parents indicated the pivot was to “prevent a breakout of COVID-19.” Gasper told The Gazette on Monday he was unsure if the current situation qualifies as an outbreak but said district officials believe the closures are necessary.
“We’re just saying it’s becoming to the point where more and more students are receiving the close contact letters. And so, to prevent further spread, we’re going to limit access and limit interaction,” Gasper said.
Superintendent Steven Pophal met with the building principals and district leadership team before making the decision to close. The final decision to close schools is up to the superintendent.
The school district in August adopted criteria from the county health department as guidance for when to pivot to virtual instruction, including:
When asked Monday which criteria were met at Craig and Roosevelt, Gasper replied: “For us, it was basically just looking at the numbers after being notified over the weekend. … We were told, and people started having to do contact tracing, and I think that that just played into once you get to a point where you have more students and more people being told to isolate or quarantine at home. It just makes more sense to pivot to an online instruction to keep more people safe.”
Students pivoting will not learn at ARISE, the district’s virtual school. Their current teachers will continue to teach students in an online setting, similar to the pivot that took place at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Breakfast and lunch will be available for curbside pickup at the high school, beginning today. Students can pick up meals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The district will work with the county health department before reopening the schools. As of Monday, Gasper didn’t expect other schools to announce closures.
“It’s just a matter of checking in with the Rock County Health Department between now and then to make sure they feel that we would make a sound decision to return to person-to-person instruction,” Gasper said.
The Janesville School Board decided at its July 14 meeting to let families decide which educational model they prefer. The district offers fully in-person, fully virtual through its online school ARISE, and a hybrid model that is a mix of the two.
The hybrid model is unique to each student. For example, one student might have two classes in person and six at ARISE, and another might have four in person and four at the virtual school.
ARISE had 3,097 full-time students and 786 hybrid students as of Thursday. Last year, ARISE had about 250 students.
A 160-pound drop box, a high-speed tabulator, and communication with the local post office are among resources Janesville officials will tap while trying to deliver a smooth November election.
City Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek gave a presentation to the city council Monday on how the November election will look in Janesville.
The Nov. 3 election is anticipated to be historic because of large increases in absentee voting prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and strong turnout to choose the next president.
Godek will receive Janesville absentee ballots this morning, and the first crop of ballots will be mailed out by the state-mandated Thursday, Sept. 17, deadline, Godek said.
So far, 12,062 people have requested absentee ballots in Janesville. Godek anticipates 25,000 will be mailed out before the election, which would be about a 77% increase from the 2016 election.
Absentee ballots, sometimes referred to as mail-in ballots, can be mailed to municipal clerks or dropped off at the clerk’s office.
Godek ordered a new, 160-pound drop box that will sit outside the Wall Street entrance of City Hall after receiving many resident requests for a larger, more secure box.
A nationwide stir was caused in recent months as President Donald Trump has questioned the integrity of absentee voting and as changes were proposed at the United States Postal Service.
Godek, responding to questions from council members, said it would be very difficult for people to vote twice in Janesville.
Notations are made in the voting books to show who has requested and who has returned absentee ballots. Poll workers have to address those notations if a person tries to vote in person after requesting a ballot in the mail, Godek said.
People who have already voted will be turned away at the polls, Godek said.
Godek has been talking with officials from the Janesville post office since May about mail-in voting. He said local postal officials are dedicated to making sure ballots make it to City Hall on time.
In August, postal workers called Godek to tell him about ballots that came into the post office late. City staff drove to the post office to pick up the ballots, Godek said.
Council member Jim Farrell asked if local results will be tabulated at a reasonable time on election night.
Absentee ballots in Wisconsin cannot be counted until Election Day, Godek said.
Rock County with state Roads to Recovery grant money bought a high-speed tabulator that will be used in Janesville to count absentee ballots quicker, Godek said.
The high-speed tabulator can county 70 ballots per minute, Godek said.
Janesville’s six central tabulators typically used for absentee ballots will be sent to other municipalities in Rock County to help speed their counts, Godek said.
Godek said he is more confident now than he was a week ago about getting local results on election night.
Last week, the state Supreme Court halted the mailing of absentee ballots as members deliberated over whether to add the Green Party presidential candidate to the ballot.
The court decided Monday afternoon to not include the candidate, which prevented Rock County from having to reprint more than 60,000 ballots.
Vice President Mike Pence sought to portray himself and President Donald Trump as the law-and-order ticket in his campaign appearance in Janesville on Monday, and the crowd loved it.
Speaking to about 300 people at the Holiday Inn Express and Conference Center, Pence said police are “some of the best people in this country. … They count our lives more than their own.”
He did not directly address the issue that has led to massive protests in recent weeks over charges of racially motivated police brutality and killings of Black people.
Pence portrayed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as someone who speaks of peaceful protests while cities burn and who would repeat policies that led to violence in cities. He did not say what policies he meant.
Pence did mention the apparent ambush shooting of two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies Saturday and the protesters who showed up at the hospital where they were treated, saying, “We hope they die.”
Pence said he and Trump support the right to protest, but he said rioting and looting are not free speech, and that must stop now. He said offenders would be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law,” a line that lifted the crowd to its feet.
There is no reason the country can’t fund law enforcement while expanding opportunities “for our African American neighbors,” Pence said.
Other big applause lines included support for “the sanctity of life,” for “reopening schools” and a call for an end to rioting.
The crowd came to its feet often during the speech and several times chanted, “Four more years!”
Pence noted the record-setting fires on the West Coast and a hurricane threat in the South.
“Know you are in our prayers, and that we are with you every step of the way until we build back, bigger and better,” Pence said.
Pence visited Janesville 50 days from the election, his second stop in the area in less than 30 days. He spoke at a town of Darien factory Aug. 19.
“The road to victory runs right through Wisconsin,” Pence said, echoing analysts who say the Badger State could tip the balance Nov. 3.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., who introduced Pence, also stressed the law-and-order theme.
“President Trump, Vice President Pence and I oppose defunding police and back the badge,” Steil said, eliciting strong applause.
Steil asked the crowd to applaud all local law enforcement officers. The crowd obliged.
Pence called Steil a rising star.
“What a great young guy, and big shoes to fill here in Janesville,” Pence said, perhaps referring to Steil’s predecessor, Paul Ryan, who was speaker of the House before retiring from Congress in 2018.
Ryan, who had been close to Pence during their time in Congress, was not seen at the rally.
Pence had Steil’s parents stand up and acknowledge applause. They waved and smiled.
Attendee Robert Zas of Janesville said he will vote for Trump, who he sees as someone who has made mistakes.
“But he met the Lord, got saved, repented of his sins,” Zas said. “God forgave him; I forgive him. He makes some stupid mistakes here and there. We all do. He speaks his mind. He tells the truth. He’s here to protect this country.”
The event ended around 11:45 a.m. as Pence’s motorcade headed back to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. Pence said he was headed to an event in Montana.
Based on a Gazette reporter’s survey of vehicles parked in the guest lot set up for rally attendees, those who came Monday were mainly a local crowd.
Most vehicles in the lot had Wisconsin license plates—although a handful were Illinois plates, along with a few Florida, Georgia and Indiana plates.
And unlike some of Trump’s public appearances in the past month, Pence’s Janesville rally did not draw a large crowd of protesters or counter-protesters.
Three demonstrators—two people who oppose Trump’s re-election because of his stances on the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, and one person urging Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ recall—made up the entire protest crowd.
A hotel grounds manager said anyone picketing or demonstrating was being asked to stay off the hotel property. That rule kept protesters and rallygoers mostly separated.
One man waved a flag outside calling for Evers’ recall. He declined to identify himself. His wife asked people arriving to sign a recall petition.
The man explained his efforts only by saying, “Evers is a joke.”
Closer to the event’s entrance, on the sidewalk alongside a temporary picket fence between the hotel grounds and Wellington Place, Chris Hionis of Evansville stood holding a sign that read: “Trump lies. People die.”
Hionis said he is a “lifelong conservative” who identifies himself as a “never Trumper.” He said he will vote for Biden.
Hionis believes Trump has told “20,000 lies” during his presidency, the most significant coming from recent revelations that the president was on record downplaying COVID-19 concerns.
Hionis is concerned that almost 200,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus while the president played down the pandemic.
Janesville resident David Innes protested on the same sidewalk as Hionis.
His two signs did double-duty. The one side read: “Fix Climate” and “Tax Carbon.” The other side read “Black Lives Matter.”
“Signs have two sides, so you might as well use both sides,” Innes said.
Innes said he plans to vote for Biden, but he said he wasn’t protesting Pence’s appearance to pick a fight with supporters of Trump or Pence.
He told reporters that he thinks the “hate fest” between Democrats and Republicans is “sophomoric” and a “distraction” from what he views as the world’s biggest problem: climate change.
“But a lot of the young people don’t care about climate change and half the state of California on fire, or 200,000 people dying from a virus,” Innes said.
Innes, his face covered by a mask, pointed at a tall woman in her 20s. The woman was mask-free, proudly showing a masked TV reporter her satin Mike Pence banner.
“The young people are not too worried about all this deficit spending we’re having to do right now,” Innes said.
“Instead, they just keep holding big university parties. You know what’s not laughable about that? They’re going to be the ones picking up the bill for years and years.”
At least two SWAT teams were present at the hotel Monday morning. A Gazette reporter saw law enforcement from Janesville, Milton, Beloit, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
Two officers with rifles on tripods were stationed on the roof above the entry to the seating area at the rally.
On the hotel roof, one armed Janesville police officer monitored the crowd.
All rally attendees’ temperatures were checked, and hand sanitizer and masks were available at the door, but few wore masks.
Jennifer Wilkins of Roscoe, Illinois, brought her three young children to the event.
“I want them to be involved in the decisions that will affect America, and I want them to know that it matters what they do in the future and that they need to have an opinion. They need to get involved,” she said.
Wilkins called herself “a reluctant 2016 voter (for Trump) and a gung-ho 2020 voter. I voted for Trump because of Pence in 2016.”
Asked why, she said it was Pence’s conservative Christian values.
If Trump and Pence are defeated this time, “Then it will be God’s will,” Wilkins said. “And I’m going to pray for my president.”
Zas also said it would be God’s will, but he said he worried about the country descending into pro-abortion policies and socialism.
The Janesville Police Department will be one of six local law enforcement agencies to help with security for Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign stop in the city Monday morning, a Janesville police sergeant said Sunday.
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