Students in the Madison School District can expect to be in school buildings for five days a week this fall.
District officials announced Thursday plans to resume fully in-person instruction for students across all grade levels for the 2021-22 school year. The district cited a "steep and sustained downward trajectory" in local COVID-19 cases and a "steadily upward" climb in vaccinations.
"The full reopening of schools is a day the entire community has been waiting for," Superintendent Carton Jenkins said in a statement. "It has always been our preference to have all students learning in-person, connecting face to face with teachers and classmates, and benefiting from learning in a classroom environment."
Madison School Board president Ali Muldrow also cited the downward trend in cases and the increase in vaccination numbers in Dane County as she threw her support behind the decision.
“It’s exciting to think that we get to see our kids five days a week and it’s the right move for our students and educators,” Muldrow said. "We’re looking forward to a much more stable year next year."
Muldrow said the district will maintain COVID-19 mitigation efforts at least at the beginning of the school year because current CDC recommendations say young children should continue to wear masks at least until they are vaccinated. The district’s mask requirement could change if vaccines become available to the district's youngest learners and the rate of inoculation continues to climb as cases decline in Dane County.
The district strongly encouraged all students who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination — the Pfizer shot is the only one currently available to those as young as 12 — to receive it before the new school year.
In Dane County, 53.6% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 67.9% of 16- and 17-year-olds had received at least one dose of the vaccine by Thursday, according to the state Department of Health Services, far more than the statewide figures of 23.3% and 34.2% for the age groups, respectively.
While fully in-person will be the "default instructional model" this fall, families will also be given options for online learning for secondary students, the district said.
The district had previously shared plans for a new online academy — the Madison Promise Academy — to launch in the fall. It will serve up to 250 students in grades 6-12.
After shutting down in mid-March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country, the district taught nearly all students exclusively online until this past March, when kindergartners began returning to school buildings, followed by other grade levels in subsequent weeks. The phased return of grade levels wasn't complete until late April.
This semester, parents could opt to keep students online or for a hybrid schedule, where students attended in-person classes for part of the week and learned online during the other part.
Thursday was the last full day for the 2020-21 school year.