DPI issues guidance for reopening of Wisconsin schools

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The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued Education Forward, a guidance document for Wisconsin district and school leaders to use as they plan for a safe, efficient and equitable return to school for the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The next school year will likely be different from the learning environment students and teachers have grown accustomed to,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said. 

DPI specialists from content areas across the department developed Education Forward in close collaboration with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and state education stakeholders. The primary consideration was the health and safety of students and staff.

“COVID-19 remains highly contagious, and people in Wisconsin are still at risk,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. “This guidance is designed to be used in consultation with local health departments, and we encourage school districts to work with them closely to make the best decisions for their communities.”

Education Forward provides health information, resources, and possible action steps aligned to closing out the current school year and preparing for and implementing provisions in the next school year. This guidance is a starting point as schools consider the decisions they need to make and the conversations they need to have.

The document includes information on infection control and mitigation, lays out sample learning scenarios, and provides specific considerations for special education students, English language learning students, gifted and talented students, school libraries, teaching and learning staff, school safety/mental health, and out-of-school time programs. Resources such as a risk assessment tool, and a school nurse toolkit are also included.

The plan includes a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Those include the following:

Four-day week

Each student level (elementary, middle, and high school) reports to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations four full days a week. Schools are closed on the fifth day to allow for deep-cleaning.

Two-day rotation

All students report to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations two full days per week (Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday).

A/B week rotation

Half of the student population reports to school, outdoor learning spaces, or community-based organizations four full days per week for in-person learning while the other half of the school population participates in virtual learning at home. The two student groups alternate between in-person and virtual learning weekly. All grade bands are included.

Elementary face-to-face and secondary virtual learning

Elementary students start back to school first, before other levels.

Elementary students attend four full days per week and are distributed across multiple sites (e.g., elementary and middle school buildings) to reduce the student-teacher ratio in accordance with physical distancing recommendations.

Secondary students continue to engage in virtual learning.

With each of these four possible plans:

•Students are provided with virtual learning materials—digital, analog, or a combination of the two formats—to support learning on those days when they do not report to school for in-person learning.

•All English learner, special education, gifted and talented, and resource teachers work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10/1 or fewer in each learning environment. Learning in outdoor spaces or partnerships with community-based organizations may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios to 10/1 or fewer.

•One day per week is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students do not report to school on these days but continue learning independently.

When it comes to virtual learning, money from the CARES Act will support school districts around remote learning options. As it relates to health and safety, the document suggests staggering events like lunch, arrival, and dismissal to help encourage social distancing. It also suggests daily health checks of students and staff if possible.

While Education Forward is aimed at supporting schools through reopening, this will be a fluid document. It will be regularly updated to provide new information and support school operations and the learning environment.

Again, this document is just a guideline, each district now has to make a decision over the summer.

Education Forward can be found in its entirety on the DPI’s website, dpi.wi.gov.

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