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State officials release guidance on reopening schools

(NBC15)
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 8:35 AM CDT
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Flexibility will be key in reopening classrooms in Wisconsin’s 421 public school districts amid the coronavirus pandemic, state officials said Monday in releasing guidance on the new school year.

The Department of Public Instruction said school districts should be prepared to shift between in-person, physically-distanced and virtual learning as they deal with changing aspects of COVID-19.

As new best practices develop, health and safety recommendations may change, state officials said.

Physical distancing to avoid contracting the coronavirus may mean reducing classroom size by having students attend school in staggered groups or in shifts, DPI said in its

.

DPI said these guidelines can be a starting point for districts as school districts across the state develop plans for the fall.

Guidelines include smaller class sizes and physical distancing, as well as a recommended four-day week, with a fifth day reserved for deep cleaning school buildings.

The plan also outlines various schedules and methods schools can use to maintain social distancing, like rotating groups of students between virtual and in-person learning.

Middleton Cross Plains Area School District spokesperson Perry Hibner said his district began planning for the next school year as they wrapped up the 2019-2020 school year.

"We developed a couple of fall scenario planning teams," Hibner explained. "They're looking at everything from full in person instruction for 2021 to full virtual learning to a blended model that includes some of both."

Hibner said the district will be keeping Monday's guidance from DPI as well as instructions from health officials in mind.

"We're going to rely on them to tell us what we can do in person," Hibner said.

MCPASD sent a survey to families Monday to hear their concerns and expectations about in-person learning and the fall semester. The survey asked questions about virtual learning, in-person learning and transportation.

"How many people plan to use transportation knowing there might be changes with how buses work in the fall?" Hibner listed as an example.

The

would combine virtual and in-person learning.

Other Dane County school districts plan to wait for local public health guidance before making final decisions.

"They may come out with more stringent rules in terms of what they want districts to do," Hibner explained.

The Sun Prairie Area School District said in a statement, "The guidance released by Public Health Madison and Dane County according to their Forward Dane plan will serve as the primary information we use to build our plan for fall reopening. Once that guidance becomes clear, we will think through how it impacts specific schools, grade levels, and other programs within the District."

Some Dane County school districts, including MCPASD and Deerfield, told NBC15 they expect to have a more detailed plan by mid- to late July.

The state Assembly’s Education Committee scheduled a Wednesday hearing to discuss the reopening plan. Testimony will be taken from a variety of education stakeholders, including groups representing rural schools, religious and independent schools, the private school voucher program, the group that oversees athletics as well as school administrators and school boards.

Wisconsin schools shifted to distance learning in March as the coronavorus spread throughout the state. As of Sunday, there have been nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the stat with 744 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Of those who got the virus, 78% have recovered and 3% have died with the rest remaining active cases.

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