UPDATE: Marathon County Health Department explains letter to local schools regarding sports

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 7:49 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Marathon, Lincoln, Portage and Wood County health departments sent a letter to the Wisconsin Valley Conference members’ superintendents. The letter did not include any non-Valley schools.

“We weren’t trying to leave them out,” Marathon County Health Department public information officer Judy Burrows said.

Burrows says the plan was to eventually clue in the smaller schools.

“The letter was shared widely and publicly before we had an opportunity to talk with other schools,” Burrows said.

That raises the question of will the health departments eventually write a formal letter to the non-Valley schools.

“I wish I had a crystal ball,” Burrows said. “I don’t want to say no because if I say no, there will be one. If I say yes, then you might expect one.”

Burrows stands by the letter and says that even schools not listed in it should abide by what it says.

“We would like to see all schools being mindful and practicing the things that we know are gonna help protect the kids and keep them safe,” Burrows said.

But why one month more than the WIAA’s set dates?

“It gives us time to monitor what’s happening in schools before we add more activity to the school day,” Burrows said.

We reached out to the Wisconsin Valley Conference superintendents to see how they would be using the recommendations from their local health departments.

The only superintendent to respond was Wausau School District superintendent Dr. Keith Hilts. He said, “athletics is so much up in the air right now, I don’t feel like I could speak confidently about the subject. When we have decisions we can share them.”


In a letter signed by the health officers of the Marathon, Portage, Wood and Lincoln Health Departments, health officials are asking the superintendents of the Wisconsin Valley Conference school districts to delay co-curricular activities, including sports, for at least a month after opening.

“In light of the increased risks posed in introducing co-curricular activities while reopening schools, we are recommending schools pause and wait in determining what co-curricular activities can be done safely given the level of COVID-19 activity in their community,” the letter read in part, citing music, sports, drama and other activities. “We advise school districts to successfully accomplish in-person education for four weeks without co-curricular activities.”

The letter, dated July 27th and provided to NewsChannel 7 by a viewer, cites high COVID-19 activity level in each of the counties represented. The letter was addressed to the superintendents of D.C. Everest, Marshfield, Merrill, Stevens Point, Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids school districts, which include teams in the Valley Football Association.

“The first month of schools being reopened will inform us whether measures of physically distancing, cohorting kids, face mask usage, and cleaning will control the spread of this virus,” the letter read.

Wausau School District is the only district of those cited that is planning an all-virtual school opening for the first month, with the other districts that have finalized their plans opting for hybrid and in-person returns in some form.

When reached for comment, Wausau superintendent Keith Hilts noted he wasn’t comfortable discussing their sports plan at this time, as they are currently undecided on athletics. Other superintendents had not yet responded to requests for interviews.

Last week, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to delay low-risk fall sports practice until August 17, and high-risk sports, like football and volleyball, until September 7. The county recommendations in the letter ask for a delay for at least a month following the beginning of school opening, which could push the start of sports further into October.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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