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.
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.”
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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