Responding to COVID-19 is a tremendous undertaking for schools. Schools are tasked with re-envisioning educational delivery models in a span of weeks and adjust practices accordingly. As we look toward the fall, the safety and health of our students, educators, and families remains of the highest importance. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is providing this guidance to aid in school districts’ decision making as they look to build educational services and supports in a COVID-19 environment.
Under state law, school districts determine the operations of their buildings and the learning environment. Risk mitigation and health factors will drive decisions regarding school operations. While I expect schools to reopen this fall, they will undoubtedly look different. There will need to be social distancing, new cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and changes to how educators deliver instruction. There will be students who are not able to return to school due to health concerns and students and staff who may be quarantined due to exposure. This means every school district will need to plan for both school operations on campus and remote learning.
The DPI will be using federal CARES Act dollars to support school districts around remote learning options. Changes will need to be made as districts look at how they provide meals to students, transport students to and from school, move through their buildings, and gather to celebrate achievements.
The DPI partnered collaboratively with our state’s educational leaders: the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services, Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Wisconsin Education Association Council, and the Cooperative Educational Service Agency Statewide Network and in conjunction with the Department of Health Services. Education Forward was developed to help local education and community leaders plan appropriately for students to return to school this fall.
There are 421 school districts, 26 independent charter schools, and 792 private schools serving a school-age population of over 1,000,000 students in Wisconsin. Due to the extensive variance in schools, this guidance is offered as a workbook to be considered in conjunction with the Department of Health Services risk assessment checklist. Please use these tools to discuss school district reopening plans with local health agencies and ensure information is complete in regards to the magnitude of risk associated with options being considered.
The DPI will continuously update this guidance as new information arises and provide additional resources as they become available to support school operations and the learning environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequities existing in Wisconsin. As we look to address these inequities and the planning around the pandemic, the DPI is focused on providing school districts the necessary supports and regulatory relief to pursue innovative strategies to ensure equitable access to learning.
Carolyn Stanford Taylor, State Superintendent