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Wisconsin education department expects schools to open in fall

Wisconsin education department expects schools to open in fall


A science room at Madison East High School. Madison Metropolitan School District officials have said this spring they are “preparing for pretty much everything” in the fall.

The state Department of Public Instruction “expects schools to reopen in the fall,” it told school district administrators in an email Friday.

The message, posted on DPI’s COVID-19 updates website, also says the department anticipates releasing guidance on returning to school amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on June 22.

“The focus of this guidance is to provide considerations for district and school leaders to plan and implement a safe, efficient, and equitable return to school,” Deputy State Superintendent Mike Thompson wrote.

DPI acknowledged in the message it expects “changes to school operations to address risk factors to control the spread of COVID-19,” as well as meeting the needs of students who cannot return because of health needs and “changing conditions” of the pandemic.

“It is likely that school districts will need to provide access to remote learning throughout the year to some students in addition to the regular school operation,” the email states. “As a result, DPI’s guidance will reflect considerations for both returning to school and once school is underway to help inform your decisions.”

Schools around the state closed in mid-March for the remainder of the school year as statewide and local public health orders attempted to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Schools are among the institutions allowed to open under Phase 2 of Public Health Madison & Dane County's reopening plan. The county entered Phase 2 beginning Monday.

[As MMSD plans for more budget cuts, Evers hopeful no budget repair bill necessary]

Madison Metropolitan School District officials have said this spring they are “preparing for pretty much everything” in the fall.

“We’re literally preparing for any potential scenario when we reopen, which could be a combination of in-person, virtual or blended together,” director of student and staff support Jay Affeldt said in May.

Interim superintendent Jane Belmore said later in the month staff were working on draft plans for reopening, with the goal of completing details by the end of July. Anticipated changes include an increased focus on handwashing, hygiene and facial coverings with the possibility of schedule changes and health screenings.

She said during a press conference in late May that she is “quite certain” transportation will be an issue, with staggered start times among the options being considered.

“There are only so many buses, only so many bus drivers and only so much money that goes around in terms of transporting all our students,” executive director of building services Chad Wiese said. “We’re just going to have to be incredibly flexible.”

[Pandemic-induced restrictions continue to loosen as Dane County enters Phase 2 reopening plan]

The Centers for Disease Control released guidelines with three stages of decision-making for school districts. The first set of questions it asked was:

  • Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders?
  • Is the school ready to protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness?
  • Are you able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure?

If all of those questions can be answered with a “yes,” the guidelines ask districts to consider healthy hygiene practices, increased cleaning, social distancing and staff training on health and safety protocols. The final stage asks districts to encourage anyone who is sick to stay home, develop and implement procedures to check for symptoms “daily upon arrival, as feasible” and have flexible leave policies and practices.

Affeldt said in May the district would consider the CDC guidelines as well as work with local and state public health officials to guide its reopening.

DPI wrote in its email that the guidance it will provide was developed with the state Department of Health Services as well as education groups like the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials and Wisconsin Education Association Council, among others.

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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.

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The Cap Times spoke with a dozen members of MMSD’s Class of 2020, who offered varied experiences of what was supposed to be their final semester in high school being interrupted by a worldwide pandemic. They shared disappointment over lost traditions, trouble finding motivation to finish schoolwork and a hope that they’ll look back on this time and learn from it.

The applicants are from 17 states, including Wisconsin. Madison School Board members heard a presentation Monday in closed session from consultants BWP and Associates on the general characteristics of the candidate pool.

Changes to Madison schools for the fall will include a greater focus on hygiene, handwashing and facial coverings, as well as potential schedule changes and health screenings. Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore said she is “quite certain” transportation will be an issue, with perhaps one student per school bus seat or even every other seat. Potential options include staggered start times for summer and fall.

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