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Inside the public health guidelines that got MMSD to reopen its doors

Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 9:44 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2021 at 10:21 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - After nearly a year of virtual learning, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) will begin bringing students back to the classroom.

The district announced Wednesday, the phased return starting March 9 comes after guidance from local public health experts as well as recent positive trends in COVID-19 metrics. Families will have the option to switch to in-person instruction or continue learning in an all-virtual format.

NBC15 asked Rachel Goldberg, the school and childcare liaison at Public Health Madison & Dane County, whether she would recommend students to return to the classroom.

“This is a question every parent has to make for themselves, but as far as the data, science and evidence that I’ve seen from elementary schools implementing these mitigation strategies- schools are a safe environment,” she said.

Goldberg pointed to PHMDC’s six-page report on school reopening guidelines issued in December. It outlines local rules, such as mask-wearing for kids ages 5 and up, as well as recommendations, like having a phased approach and plan to respond to an outbreak.

“Our goal was to provide a container for schools [like], ‘Hey, this is how we think you can operate safely given all that we’re seeing across the country,’ then allowing schools to make decisions on their own based on their own community circumstances,” she said.

The report also cites data from around the world. It used numbers from South Korea to suggest young children are less likely to transmit COVID-19. A study of schools in South Wales, Australia concluded that the chances of child-to-child transmission was lower than the rate of staff-to-staff transmission.

Mike Hernandez, the chief of secondary schools with MMSD, said district officials observed how neighboring districts had been teaching in-person. “We saw some smiles from adults, and we saw some smiles from students. We forget it’s been a year: the joy of walking down the hall and feeling the excitement from everybody involved, that school spirit. That’s something we’re excited about.” he said.

In a separate report reviewing six months of teaching and learning during the pandemic, the Sauk Prairie School District said protocols like mask wearing and capacity limits kept schools open even when COVID-19 cases spiked the region. According to the district, 158 in-person students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus since July 6, and an average of 1.85 close contacts were identified with each positive case. The report attributed “low” close contact numbers to social distancing.

The current schedule for returning grade levels begins with kindergarten students on March 9th. First and second graders will follow with a return on March 16. MMSD says it will continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics to later determine when other grade levels and co-curriculars can transition to in-person learning.

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