State officials release guidance on reopening schools

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MADISON, Wis. — State education officials say flexibility will be key in reopening classrooms in Wisconsin’s 421 school districts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Public Instruction released guidance Monday on what educators should consider in the coming school year.

The new Education Forward plan does not require school districts and individual schools to follow certain recommendations. Instead, it serves as a road map for administrators and educators to follow. Decisions will be made on a district-wide level.

“The next school year will be likely be different from the learning environment students and teachers have grown accustomed to,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said. “Education Forward is meant to provide information for educators and school officials as they make decisions regarding their school operations to keep all students and staff safe while learning.”

DPI says school districts should be prepared to shift between in-person, physically-distanced and virtual learning as they deal with changing aspects of COVID-19.

The plan includes four proposed instructional models.

The first would split students into two equal-sized groups who would attend in-person classes two days a week, but on opposite schedules. While one group is learning in-person, the other group would receive the same lesson virtually. All students would likely learn virtually in the middle of the week to allow staff to clean the school before the groups switch.

The second proposed method would still split students into two groups, but the group out of the classroom would participate in individual learning rather than a virtual lesson taught by a teacher. The schedule would be the same as the first method.

Method three would have all students attend in-person classes while rotating through small-group instruction with a teacher, collaborative activities, independent learning and teacher-led instruciton based on a fixed schedule.

The final method would have students rotate through any collection of the above-mentioned stations based on individual schedules that are created by a teacher or software algorithm. Students might not rotate to every station unlike method three.

Some of DPI’s other recommendations include limiting classes to 10 students per teacher, holding in-person classes on as few as two days a week and bringing elementary students back to school before secondary education students. Rearranging desks and providing visual cues to help promote social distancing were also listed as potential infection-prevention methods.

Sanitation recommendations include making hand sanitizer widely available, routine disinfecting of high-traffic areas and minimizing sharing of supplies as much as possible.

The plan also includes recommendations to require students and staff to remain home if they feel sick. DPI suggests temperature and symptom checks for students, staff and possible visitors to ensure those who are sick or showing symptoms are not coming to school.

School districts should also prepare for more frequent absences from teachers if they are required to stay home when sick or showing symptoms, according to the Education Forward plan. DPI recommends asking retired teachers to help lead classes if or when there is a lapse in healthy teachers.

State education officials say that as new best practices develop, health and safety recommendations may change.

The entire Education Forward plan is available here.