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Public Health amendment allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities

Public Health amendment allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities

Janel Heinrich (copy) (copy)

Public Health Madison & Dane County director Janel Heinrich addresses reporters at a Madison news conference on July 1 as Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway looks on. 

Students with disabilities who need some in-person instruction will be allowed to go to schools this fall after Public Health Madison & Dane County amended its previous order Tuesday.

PHMDC had announced on Friday, Aug. 21, that no students beyond grades K-2 were allowed for in-person instruction until certain metrics were met.

After a challenging spring for students with disabilities, who have Individualized Education Programs that outline therapies and goals, some area districts had been planning for limited in-person opportunities prior to the order. That work, part of the IEP process that includes parents and school representatives, can now continue.

The Madison Metropolitan School District had nearly 4,000 students with disabilities of nearly 27,000 students total in the 2019-20 school year. Some therapies like speech and language were easier to adapt to a virtual environment than practices like physical therapy or the social interactions that are an important part of development for students.

The Aug. 21 order, Emergency Order No. 9, is facing multiple legal challenges from area private schools, supporting groups and parents. Many private schools were set to open last week, just after the order was published.

The state Supreme Court has asked PHMDC director Janel Heinrich and County Executive Joe Parisi to respond by Wednesday at noon.

The order allows public and private schools to open for grades K-2 in person with certain hygiene, mask and distancing requirements in place.

For grades 3-5 to be allowed in person, Dane County must be at or below a 14-day average of 39 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. Grades 6-12 in-person learning requires a 14-day average of 19 cases per day for four consecutive weeks.

As of Aug. 21, Dane County was averaging 42 cases per day, according to the county’s announcement. If the number rises above 54, public health would consider closing all schools for any in-person instruction.

School buildings can still be used for food distribution, health care services, child care, pickup of student materials and government functions.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

Related to this story

Middleton High School junior Daria Rudykh started a petition that has gotten more than 175 signatures asking MCPASD to keep the pass/no pass system in place as long as virtual learning continues. Distractions at home, whether siblings to care for or the stress of families losing income during the pandemic, can make it a challenging environment to learn in, she said, in addition to the stress and anxiety of the ongoing pandemic.