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Becky Allen welcomes a student on the first day of school at Tullar Elementary School on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Neenah, Wis. (Photo: Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

NEENAH – The number of schools across northeastern Wisconsin to transition to online instruction continues to mount, as the Neenah Joint School District has decided to shift starting Monday. 

The switch comes just a month since Neenah’s school year began and over 80% of the district’s more than 6,600 students returned to classrooms for face-to-face learning.

In a Friday afternoon news release, the district said the change is primarily driven by the dire situation of the coronavirus pandemic across northeastern Wisconsin.

The Oshkosh-Neenah area is currently considered the fastest-growing COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, according to a list maintained by the New York Times. Just hours before the change was announced, several Fox Valley health departments joined to issue a public health emergency due to the swift spread of the virus in the area.

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The district joins several other districts in the area — including Menasha Joint School District and Shawano School District and the vast majority of public and private schools in Brown County — to move to all-online learning after bringing students back to classrooms at least part-time. 

The Neenah school district had offered families the choice between fully in-person learning, or online learning. Students in grades 7-12 also had the option of real-time distance learning, where they participated in class from home through a live stream.

According to the district news release, staff and student absenteeism also drove the shift to online learning, as in several other area school districts. Currently, the student absenteeism rate is well above the district’s threshold established for keeping schools open, the district said. And while staff absenteeism has fluctuated throughout the first month the district has struggled with having enough substitute teachers.

Neenah schools will remain online through at least Friday, Oct. 16, with the hope that students may return Monday, Oct. 19 under either a full-time, in-person model or a hybrid model combining virtual and in-person learning.

Neenah District Administrator Mary Pfeiffer (Photo: Courtesy of Neenah schools)

In order to make that return date a possibility, Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer called on the community to collectively take action to reduce the spread of the virus. 

“We have worked hard to keep schools open to this point and thank those who have taken the necessary precautions to help make this happen,” Pfeiffer said in the release. “However, we continue to hear about events and gatherings continuing to take place in our community. We need to take this seriously and practice smart and safe behaviors while encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same.”

Contact reporter Samantha West at 920-996-7207 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @BySamanthaWest.

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