School district closes all grounds
Ban includes disc golf course
By Greg Seubert
What started out as outdoor activities to give people a break from COVID-19 are now off-limits for at least another month.
The Waupaca School District recently placed closed signs on all of its properties, including a popular disc golf course, playgrounds and tennis courts adjacent to the high school.
Walking trails on school property are also closed until the state’s Safer at Home order affecting schools expires June 30.
“It was part of that Safer at Home order – Act 28 – that the state put out,” Waupaca District Administrator Ron Saari said. “When the state Supreme Court overruled it, they specifically left out the part impacting K-12 schools.
“They kept that in place and it looks like the legislation is in agreement that DHS (state Department of Health Services) has that authority to be able to shut down schools, school buildings and the grounds,” he said. “They made it very clear that it’s not only the buildings, but the grounds as well. We’re doing our best to meet the order so that we’re not in violation, but at the same time, we’re hoping it can go away quicker.”
School buildings will remain closed until June 30.
“Initially, we put up some signs back in March that the grounds were closed,” Saari said. “Then, we started to receive complaints from people in the community seeing people playing tennis or whatever. As far as policing that, they wanted us to lock everything up and put caution tape around it.
“We didn’t want to do that because we know that to be outside is healthy,” he said. “We worked with law enforcement and asked are we meeting the spirit of what the DHS order is if we put up signs and they said yes. We communicated to people that we can’t police it 24/7 and keep an eye on every piece of property that the district has. We just have to trust people that they’re going to do the right thing.”
The disc golf course, located off of King Road near the soccer fields, had plenty of traffic this spring once the snow melted.
A school district sign indicating that the course was closed until June 30 was located near the parking lot on May 21, but was not there two days later.
A closed sign remained posted on the fence at the tennis courts over Memorial Day weekend, but people still used the courts.
“We’re kind of upset and disappointed that we have to do it,” Saari said. “They said if we don’t put up the signs that we’re kind of liable if COVID-19 got traced back to our property. If we have the signs up, that would be our due diligence. When we further dug into this and looked into everything, that’s when we decided we’d put the signs up and leave it at that.”
The DHS could allow the properties to reopen before June 30, according to Saari.
“If DHS would let up on their order, we could do it sooner,” he said. “Hopefully, they don’t extend that after June 30. It’s good to be outside. Some people are saying that the sun kills the virus. If everybody’s staying 6 feet away and practicing social distancing, it ought to be OK. What if everybody that’s in a household wanted to play tennis or disc golf? It’s a good activity to be involved in.”
A major change
COVID-19 has affected school districts across Wisconsin, including Waupaca.
“It’s been stressful and it’s forced us to be more reflective and more collaborative than we were before,” Saari said. “There are some days when I have had 11 virtual meetings, whether it’s communicating with state officials or local officials.
“It’s brought us closer to a certain degree because of the need to communicate and update everybody on what’s happening and the need to collaborate regarding how we’re going to do a virtual graduation,” he said. “Initially, we were going to do a drive-in (graduation). That’s what our parents wanted, that’s what our students wanted. We all wanted that. We had some really neat plans, but then it became clear that we weren’t allowed to do that.”
Virtual learning has been in place in the district since late March.
“There was no training or practice when we started,” Saari said. “We had a few days and did our best. You have to credit our staff and the teachers for their dedication and professionalism.
“A lot of work behind the scenes is also taking place with teams of people as we look at adopting an LMS, a learning management system for teaching and learning that we were going to do at some point in the future,” he added. “This has kind of forced us to speed that up. This summer, when we adopt that and start getting some training, it’ll help us whether we’re back in the classroom 100 percent, whether it’s virtual 100 percent or whether it’s blended with a little bit of virtual and in-person instruction. It’s going to make us better and more effective.”