A livestreamed question and answer session elicited a wide array of concerns about reopening Madison public schools for in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Logistics surrounding student transportation, efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in schools and the health and safety of high-risk teachers were among the concerns voiced by parents and community members.
Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the Madison School District will make a decision by Jan. 8 on whether to return students in kindergarten through second grade back to classrooms. The district plans to consider bringing middle and high schoolers back to school buildings at staggered dates in the new year.
“We’re in the middle of a health crisis, and we have to make sure we can do everything we can to ensure that all students, staff, families and our community thrive during these moments,” Jenkins said.
Tremayne Clardy, chief of elementary schools, said the district is considering a four-day-a-week in-person model with an online learning option for families who don’t feel comfortable sending children back into schools.
A hybrid model of reopening was also discussed, but district leadership determined the four-day week model was safer, Clardy said.
“We have to build a model that will support the social, emotional and academic needs of our students both in person and virtual. We’re working with our school leaders and staff to (create) models that will deliver round those parameters,” Clardy said.
To help protect against a COVID-19 outbreak within schools, the district plans to include health screenings, such as temperature checks, each day for students and staff. District leaders are also considering the use of rapid testing for those who are exposed to students or staff who test positive.
The district said it has more than 50,000 student masks available and has been “stockpiling” personal protective equipment for the past six months to help mitigate the spread of the virus in schools. Hand sanitizer and cleaning kits will be provided in each classroom, and the school building HVAC system has been updated to circulate fresh, filtered air in classrooms throughout the day. The plumbing system underwent a “clean sweep” as well to make sure the water in bathrooms and classrooms is safe.
During in-person learning, students would eat lunches in their classrooms but would be able to go outside for recess and outdoor learning. Bus transportation to and from school would be provided, but students would be required to sit one per seat.
“We’re trying to move from this mindset of what education formerly looked like because that’s not going to be what students go back into,” Clardy said.
Learning models and staffing will vary depending on the size and demographics of each school, said Carlettra Stanford, co-chief of elementary schools.
“Leaders are currently working on the models. We will get that information out to parents as soon as we have made a final recommendations,” Stanford said.
Staff members who are considered high risk for COVID-19 are asked to share their concerns with the human resources department for accommodations.
“We will not put individuals at risk who have those underlying conditions. We’re going to work with the people to make sure that doesn’t happen. This isn’t just about students: It’s about students and staff, families and our entire community,” Jenkins said.
The district is considering three options: remaining entirely online, bringing only lower grades back into classrooms or bringing all students back to classrooms.
The decision-making process includes monitoring COVID-19 spread in Madison compared with the level public health officials deem appropriate for reopening school buildings, as well as the status of staff, logistics and health protocols needed to operate safely during the pandemic.
The district is conducting a family survey to determine how many students would return to in-person learning. That survey was sent out to families of students in grades three through 12 at the beginning of December.
The district plans to hold more livestreamed question and answer sessions on its Facebook page.