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DPI releases outline for reopening schools

Empower Wisconsin | June 23, 2020

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — After facing some sharp criticism from lawmakers, parents, teachers and school administrators, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Monday released its guidelines to reopen the state’s k-12 public schools — as the clock ticks down on summer vacation. 

“While I expect schools to reopen this fall, they will undoubtedly look different,” wrote state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor in the DPI plan, which is more of an outline.“Education Forward: Safely and Successfully Reopening Wisconsin Schools.” 

The guidelines for local school districts focus on social distancing, new cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and “changes to how educators deliver instructions.” And DPI, like the Evers administration, is focused on the doom and gloom, making sure school district officials keep front of mind that another “wave of (COVID-19) infections could occur resulting in changes to operations or closure.” 

“Short-term closures of schools will remain a possibility until a vaccine is widely used,” the guidance notes, adding that a vaccine is not expected for 12-18 months.  

The guidelines include several operational options. There’s a four-day in-school schedule, with a day of virtual learning per week. A “Two-Day Rotation” in which students attend classes for two days and virtual learning on two other days, with one day per week used for “teacher planning and professional learning.” 

In one option, half of the school’s students would attend school four days one week, shifting with the other half of the school the next week. Another proposal would have elementary students begin school first, before other levels. The younger students would attend four full days per week and would be “distributed” across multiple sites at elementary and middle school buildings “to reduce the student-teacher ratio in accordance with physical distancing recommendations.”  

To meet those recommendations, DPI suggests other buildings in the community may be required to be used as learning centers. 

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau)  said the good news is DPI laid out “very general guidelines.”  Republican lawmakers hope they remain as much. 

“The silver lining, I think, is many of the legislators are now hearing from administrators within their districts and a lot of those administrators are way ahead of DPI,” Fitzgerald, who got a first look at the guidelines last week, told Empower Wisconsin. “They’re out there figuring out how do we get kids back in the classroom this fall?”

DPI’s outline acknowledges what many parents lived during the statewide lockdowns and school closures for the final three months of the school year. 

“Schools provide not only positive educational and social interactions, but also ensure students are cared for when families work outside the home. School closures and reduced time in the school building may put a strain on families needing to make additional childcare arrangements,” the report states.  

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