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Gov. Tony Evers hopes to steer clear of another statewide K-12 school closure

Gov. Tony Evers hopes to steer clear of another statewide K-12 school closure

Governor in Endeavor (copy)

Gov. Tony Evers answers students’ questions in December 2019 at Endeavor Elementary School while, from left, fifth-grader John Peterson and fourth-grader Eli Delgado listen.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said he would try to avoid another statewide closure of K-12 schools if COVID-19 outbreaks were to occur in classrooms during the upcoming school year. 

Instead, the former state superintendent — who ordered the closure of school buildings in mid-March — said if the state is effectively “managing the virus and boxing it in,” it’s likely any schools directly impacted by such an outbreak would be able make the individual decision to temporarily shutter to manage the novel coronavirus before resuming instruction as planned. 

“We would take time and effort to make sure we’re in close communications not just with county public health officials but also school officials to see how it’s working out for them and whether they need to take a pause or not,” he told reporters in a briefing Tuesday.

“Hopefully if we’re in a position where the virus is being managed in the state of Wisconsin, that we would more likely see individual schools or maybe a classroom taking 14 days to self-isolate at home rather than a statewide shutdown.” 

The Democrat’s comments come as education officials continue planning for the upcoming school year and state leaders work to distribute masks and thermometers to K-12 institutions in preparation for what the Department of Public Instruction has said “will undoubtedly” be a different-looking school year. 

The agency last month released its 87-page “Education Forward” guidance document that lists a series of recommendations districts should take to mitigate the risks amid the ongoing pandemic, including daily temperature checks or symptoms screening, modified schedules and more. 

The framework also recommends that districts “plan for both school operations on campus and remote learning,” though schools aren’t bound by the recommendations.

Locally, the Madison Metropolitan School District has indicated district officials are planning for three scenarios amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: all in-person, all virtual learning and a "hybrid model" that would be a blend of the two.

Evers on Tuesday also announced the state will begin distributing more than 2 million cloth face masks and over 4,200 infrared thermometers to schools in the coming weeks. Survey results last month of K-12 institutions in Wisconsin found at least 398 public school districts, 23 charter schools and 617 private ones indicated they wanted to receive extra supplies, according to an announcement Tuesday. 

MMSD has said it would receive 53,000 masks and 106 thermometers. 

Separately, the state is sending personal protective equipment to local food processors and other businesses. The PPE was obtained from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at no cost to the state, per the governor’s office. 

Evers was also part of a phone call with other governors and federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who said that schools need to reopen come fall and “must be fully operational,” the Associated Press reported. The report showed DeVos also knocked districts that had planned to offer in-person learning just a few days each week.  

While Evers said he agreed in-person instruction is preferable, he also encouraged districts to “have all the options on the table.” 

“It’s important for school districts and parents and kids to be prepared but at the end of the day, I would not consider a district who offers a hybrid where it’s partially in school, partially online to be failing in their responsibilities,” he said. “They have to make that decision locally. I don’t think that’s something Secretary DeVos can discern necessarily from Washington, D.C.”

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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