School districts consider federal and state guidelines while planning to return this fall

MADISON, Wis.– The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released Education Forward, guidelines for a safe return to schools in the fall, as school districts continue to plan for multiple outcomes.

State guidelines come just one month after federal guidelines for schools were updated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DPI used the CDC guidelines as a reference point and worked closely with the Department of Health Services and educators to put Education Forward together, according to Senior Policy Advisor Jennifer Kammarud.

With over 400 schools in the state, Kammarud said each district has a different reality. These guidelines might not be realistic in each setting, but they should serve as a place to start conversations with local health departments.

“One of the things that I want to stress is that we do expect students back at school in the fall,” Kammarud said. “That’s something school districts are going to have to plan for. Now that they’ve learned from what happened last spring, and think about what’s going to work for their community in terms of learning options, should they have to go to a remote or virtual setting.”

Education Forward suggests districts create many plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Kammarud said the first plan should be what school looks like with students back in the classroom. Back-up plans should be alternative plans, if the local health department orders for schools to close.

Some of the state’s guidelines would change school as we know it, which is why local school districts are taking time to thoughtfully put together their own plans.

Madison Metropolitan School District has not released a full plan, but announced the district will take a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual instruction in the fall, according to spokesperson Tim LeMonds.

“The nature of COVID-19 presents many unknowns, and our approach to the fall will be flexible, nimble and with equity and safety at the center,” LeMonds said in a statement. “Considering these unknowns, our plan will also incorporate many contingencies, including responding to any resurgence of COVID-19 risk levels, school closures and the district’s ability to make a quick and smooth transition into a full virtual learning environment if needed.”

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District is still in the planning process and expects the school board to approve their plan by late July, according to spokesperson Perry Hibner.

“We’re just trying to collect data and come up with the best informed decision possible. We want to remind our families to take the survey,”  Hibner said. “Please remember no decisions have been made, but at the end of the day, the safety of not only your children, but our staff, I think that’s the most important thing to all of us.”

Verona Area School District is still working on a plan while awaiting guidance, according to spokesperson Raechelle Belli.

Districts said they are also waiting to see what public health officials determine at the local level.