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Beloit School District may allow small groups of students return to schools

BELOIT — School District of Beloit Interim Superintendent Dan Keyser and the board of education discussed some scenarios whereby small groups of students may begin to get educational services within the school buildings at its Tuesday evening business meeting.

Currently, the district is only offering distance learning through Jan. 22 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are some needs we aren’t able to address at a distance, and the district is considering small groups getting targeted assistance,” Keyser said.

“It’s a great idea to get small groups of kids in because COVID is going to be around for a long time,” school board member Stephanie Jacobs said.

Keyser explained the students who would take priority would be those without access to the internet; students who are struggling; students who need ongoing academic intervention; and those experiencing social and emotional struggles. The groups of students would be 10 or less. Once the structure is up and running, it could grow to include more students.

Keyser said the district has learned a lot and has had good experiences finding innovative ways to reach out to students and families, with lots of community engagement and support. However, those at the district are also recognizing the increasing effects of students being isolated from schools and one another.

“There is a growing need for consideration and support for students both academically and social-emotionally,” Keyser said.

Keyser said 80% of administrative staff and 59.5% of classroom teachers have said under the right conditions there could be small groups of 10 or fewer students that could be supported inside the schools safely.

Keyser also noted community partners such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Stateline Family YMCA have been able to support groups of students with no closures.

He said appointments will be set ahead of time and all healthroom staff and building administration would be notified and parental transportation would be encouraged.

There would be a contactless check in and health screening. Students would be escorted to a designated room adjacent to an exit door, and would be escorted to pickup.

Keyser said parents have wanted to get students back to school, and the theme of “getting back to school is out there.”

The district, Keyser said, had some success with bringing in special education students for testing.

“We needed to do some testing and were able to find situations in which we had special education rooms adjacent to exterior doors. We brought them in, did testing and they did not interact with any staff,” Keyser said.

Jacobs said she fully supports Keyser’s idea.

Board member John Wong thanked Keyser for bringing it to the board. Wong added there needs to be mandatory safety requirements for students with no exceptions to the rules.

Wong also said he is concerned about declining enrollment and other area schools that are open, which could lead to more students going elsewhere.

“We can serve our students well. We have to think outside of the box and not be too sheltered,” Wong said. “Doing nothing and staying virtual is detrimental to the district long term.”

Board member Spencer Anderson said he wanted to ensure the cleaning procedures are done and asked if the teaching in-person would be voluntary. Anderson said there are some teachers who aren’t comfortable and their teaching could be impacted.

Keyser said teaching in-person would be voluntary.

Wong asked Keyser if he also was reviewing possible opening scenarios for extracurricular activities. Keyser said he was.

Jacobs said she has been extremely worried about 4-6-year-old children primarily, those little ones having first experiences of school online. Some of them , she said, may continue to struggle and fall behind. Jacobs said she believes there are teachers who are willing to volunteer and that she is excited about it, especially with the surrounding schools open.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the district also approved the purchase of two food trucks in the amount of $410,000 from Fund 50.

The food trucks have been approved by Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for a way of distributing meals in the National School Lunch and National Breakfast Program as well as ala carte sales. Currently, the district has an excess fund balance of over $900,000.

The trucks would be paid through Fund 50 and the cost of both trucks is estimated to be $410,000. Fund 50 is used for the district’s food and community service activities. No K-12 instructional or instructional support related functions are recorded in these funds, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website at https://dpi.wi.gov.

Jack Peckham takes a stroll among the colorful fall foliage in Riverside Park Wednesday. Fall colors are in their full glory in the Stateline Area.

Millions of mail ballots not yet returned in key states

ATLANTA — Just days before the presidential election, millions of mail ballots have yet to be returned in key battleground states, and election officials warn that time is running out for voters who want to avoid a polling place on Election Day.

At least 35 million mail ballots had been returned or accepted as of early Wednesday, according to data collected by The Associated Press. That surpasses the 33.3 million total mail ballots returned during the 2016 election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Yet an estimated 1.9 million ballots were still outstanding in Florida, along with 962,000 in Nevada, 850,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania. In most states, the deadline for ballots to be received is Election Day.

“Don’t wait until Election Day,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implored voters this week. “Hand-delivering your own ballot now will give you the peace of mind that your vote will be counted, and your voice will be heard in this historic election.”

Combined with early, in-person voting, at least 71.5 million votes have already been cast, more than the total number of advance votes four years ago.

Many states made it easier to request a mail ballot this year amid the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about crowded polling places on Election Day.

One challenge has been ensuring that voters who are not used to voting absentee return their ballots in time to be counted. Compounding concerns are mail delivery delays that have persisted across the country. Delivery data from the U.S. Postal Service does not offer much assurance that these ballots will reach their destinations if they have not already been mailed.

Throughout the fall, as ballots moved through the postal system, the agency has consistently missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days.

In the week that ended Oct. 16, the most recently available weekly figures, the Postal Service reported a national on-time delivery rate of 85.5%. Postal districts in many presidential battleground states failed to reach even that mark.

The district that covers the eastern part of Michigan, which includes Detroit and its suburbs, has had one of the country’s worst delivery rates—just 71.5% of first-class mail was on-time in mid-October.

Michigan’s top election official was among those warning it was too late to try to return a ballot in the mail. She urged voters to use an official drop box or to return their ballot in person at their local election office.

“We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots on time,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said.

This year, Michigan has deployed hundreds of drop boxes across the state. The state’s ballot deadline is 8 p.m. Election Day.

The same deadline holds for Wisconsin, after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed a Democratic effort to extend it. In the state’s April primary, some 80,000 ballots arrived after Election Day.

Voters in the state appeared to be heeding the call to return ballots early, with only about 287,000 ballots outstanding out of some 1.8 million that were sent. That amounts to roughly 16% yet to be returned.

Nevada voters have more time to return their ballots, which are not due until Nov. 10 if postmarked by Election Day. There, an estimated 962,000 ballots were still outstanding as of Wednesday, although it’s unlikely all those will be returned because the state decided to send a ballot to all 1.7 million active registered voters in the state. Some voters will choose to show up at the polls or just not cast a ballot.

In Florida, 4 million of a record 6 million mail-in ballots requested had been returned as of Wednesday morning. The state was on pace to eclipse the return rate of 2016, when 81% of 3.3 million requested mail-in ballots were returned.

To be counted in Florida, ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Election Day.

“We are not necessarily concerned about the number of outstanding vote-by-mail ballots, other than trying to hammer home the message that postmarks will not count, and to get them in our office by Election Day,” said Danae Rivera-Marasco, spokeswoman for the Orange County supervisor of elections.

Some voters are still waiting to receive their ballots.

Abby Leafe, a registered Democrat who lives in suburban Philadelphia’s Bucks County, checked her mailbox Tuesday in vain for her ballot. She hopes to vote absentee but will go to the polls if she has to.

“Making sure we have free and fair elections is worth getting COVID for,” said Leafe, a 46-year-old market researcher from Newtown.

In Pennsylvania, the crush of mail-in votes is a record, more than 10 times the number received by counties in 2016′s presidential election.

The current deadline for ballots in Pennsylvania to be received is three days after the election, but last-minute litigation could move that deadline to Election Day.

COVID-19 numbers drop a bit in the county on Wednesday

The number of new COVID-19 cases, the positivity rate and people hospitalized in Rock County dropped a bit from the previous two days, according to a report from the Rock County Health Department Wednesday.

The Clinton School District reported eight positive COVID-19 cases which are believed to have originated outside of the school, according to information received from Superintendent Jim Brewer on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Daily News reported the School District of Beloit had four cases, and South Beloit School District had 11 cases from Aug. 19 to Oct. 23.

On Wednesday, the Rock County Health Department reported 61 new cases of COVID-19 from the previous day and no additional deaths in Rock County, bringing the countywide total to 5,138 cases and 44 deaths. The new cases were lower than on Tuesday where there had been 154 new cases in the county and on Monday with 189 new cases.

The health department estimates 47,850 people have tested negative and 3,276 people have recovered. There were 1,818 active cases as of Wednesday.

Thirty-three people with COVID-19 were being hospitalized in the county on Wednesday, down from 41 on Tuesday and 37 on Monday.

The positivity rate was 31% on Wednesday, down from 35% on Tuesday, and 44% on Monday.

Dane County reported 14,929 cases and 49 deaths; Green County reported 957 cases and 5 deaths; and Walworth County reported 3,411 cases and 38 deaths, Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) data from Wednesday shows.

Wisconsin reported 3,815 new cases and 45 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 210,126 cases and 1,897 deaths, DHS reports. As of Wednesday, 64,726 people have recovered in the state and DHS believes there are a total of 43,468 active cases in Wisconsin.

As of Wednesday, the Winnebago County (Illinois) Health Department reported 249 new cases and three additional deaths, bringing the countywide total to 10,542 cases and 189 deaths. Winnebago County had a positivity rate of 13.6%.

Boone County reported a total of 1,953 cases and 25 deaths; DeKalb County reported 2,469 cases and 42 deaths; McHenry County reported 6,671 cases and 121 deaths; Ogle County reported 1,271 cases and 7 deaths; and Stephenson County reported 1,075 cases and 9 deaths, state data shows.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 6,110 new confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 51 additional deaths. Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 389,095 cases, including 9,619 deaths, in 102 counties in Illinois.