Homecoming a casualty of fight against virus

Port High will not host annual celebration, limits attendance at events in effort to keep schools open

THE FIRST Port Washington High School girls’ swimming and diving meet on Tuesday looked much different than normal meets with just a few spectators in the balcony above the District Aquatic Center pool at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (background) and players and coach wearing masks on the deck, which is marked for one-way traffic. Only one person from each swimmer’s household is allowed to attend home meets, which are closed to visiting spectators. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

A school year unlike any other won’t include a Port Washington High School homecoming.

The school has canceled the annual week-long celebration that had been scheduled to begin the last week of September in its ongoing fight to avert another school shutdown or at least delay one as long as possible during a pandemic that is expected to worsen with students back in school and the flu season approaching, Port High Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Nate Hinze said Tuesday.

“This is a call we didn’t want to make, but after we’ve taken all these precautions it doesn’t make sense to throw what is essentially a city-wide party, especially since our overall goal is to keep kids learning in school for as long as possible,” Hinze said. 

Students in the Port Washington-Saukville School District returned to classrooms last week for the first time in nearly six months but on a part-time basis to allow for social distancing at the district’s two largest schools. 

Port High and Thomas Jefferson Middle School students have been split into two groups that attend in-person classes two days a week and learn online three days a week. Elementary school students attend in-person classes four days a week.

“The start of the school year went very well,” Supt. Michael Weber said this week. “We’ve been really pleased with the way in which students are handling this in terms of wearing masks and social distancing themselves. They are excited about being back and very committed to staying in school for as long as possible.”

Also this week, Port High released regulations that allow spectators to attend fall athletic events but in far fewer numbers than usual and do away with student sections. In fact, the only way a student can watch an athletic event in person is if he or she has a sibling on the team and uses one of the two or four tickets allotted to each family of an athlete.

The regulations are based on minimum standards agreed to by each team in the two athletic conferences Port High competes in.

In the East Central Conference, which Port High will play football in for the first time this year, each player’s family will receive four tickets that are to be used only by people who live in the same home as the player.  

In the North Shore Conference, which Port High competes in for every other sport and includes the Ozaukee County school districts of Grafton, Cedarburg and Mequon-Thiensville, two tickets will be issued to each players’ family.

Tickets will not be sold at gates.

Reaching a consensus in two conferences that differ geographically and in terms of Covid-19 risk was challenging, Hinze said.  The North Shore Conference extends south and west from Port Washington while the East Central Division extends west and as far north as Berlin.

“To say there was a wide variety of views would be an understatement,” he said.  “It’s been a long couple of weeks figuring this all out, but in the end I think we came up with a plan we can make work.”

Individual schools can, however, establish more restrictive rules, including closing games to visiting spectators because of seating limitations.

For instance, Port High home boys’ soccer games will be closed to visiting spectators because of bleacher space. 

For girls’ swimming and diving meets, which are held at the Port Washington-Saukville School District Aquatic Center at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, no visiting spectators are allowed and only one person from an athlete’s household may attend.

“Unfortunately, it’s indoors, it’s hot, it’s sweaty and there’s limited space,” Hinze said, noting that the school will attempt to live stream as many athletic events as possible.

Masks will generally be required at indoor events and “strongly encouraged” at outdoor events, Hinze said.

“For outdoor events, I’m telling people that I’d really like to see them wearing masks when they enter or exit our facilities or when they get up to go to the bathroom,” he said. 

It has yet to be determined if concession stands will be open during competitions.

Finding enough buses to keep team members socially distanced on the way to and from events has also been a challenge, Hinze said. 

“We wanted to have more buses, but the company doesn’t have enough drivers,” he said, adding that players may have to sit two to a seat and the school is allowing parents to drive their children to and from competitions.

One of the most difficult decisions administrators made was eliminating student sections at athletic events, Hinze said, noting it’s contrary to the goal of encouraging participation in school events.

“It’s crushing to say no to student sections,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite of what we want, but we know we just can’t have students in groups.

“If we want a fall athletic season, this is how it has to be. We want our sports season not only to begin but continue. We want our students to be able to remain in classrooms.”

Just as fall sports are different, so too has been the beginning of classes.

“For the first time in almost six months, students have returned to school but to a different environment, a socially distanced environment,” Port High Principal Thad Gabrielse wrote in a memo to School Board members. 

Open areas in the recently constructed areas of the high school designed as gathering spaces and for use as collaborative learning spaces are closed and hallways and stairwells have been marked for one-way traffic. 

“Although this sounds like a disappointing return to school ... it is quite the opposite,” Gabrielse said, adding students are happy to be back in school and are following pandemic safety protocols.

Dunwiddie Elementary School Principal Joanna Bannon wrote, “It has been a fantastic start to the year at Dunwiddie. In fact, it may be the smoothest start we have ever had.”

Weber said Tuesday that there are no reported cases of Covid-19 in district schools and although a handful of staff members are quarantining after having had contact with people who have the virus, they have yet to return to schools. 

Just two days into the school year, the Grafton School District reported its first case of Covid-19 last week at the high school and in a letter to parents said administrators were working in conjunction with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department to quickly “identify, notify and quarantine” students and staff members who came into close contact with the infected person.

In the Mequon-Thiensville School District, which shelved plans for a regular return to classes and instead opted for an online only start to the school year last week because of a spike in Covid-19 cases in the community, two Homestead High School administrators tested positive for the virus. The district was to begin in-person classes this week.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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