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Vulnerability and Safety While Educating Wisconsin's Medically Fragile Students

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

This ConnectEd story was submitted by Restarting Safe Education & Testing for children with Medical Complexity. Visit the organization’s website at

Health care teams often refer to children with the most severe health needs as "children with medical complexity." The teachers, school nurses, and administrators who interact with these children recognize the school's vital role in achieving their education, development, and health goals.

Even in the best of times, the effort it takes to ensure these children thrive at school is intense; and the pandemic has thrust a new set of challenges on these children, families, schools, and communities. Serious illness from COVID-19, including hospitalization or death, is much higher for this group of children. A sizable number are either unable to attend safely or simply attend despite risks because there are no better options.

Effective strategies to prevent COVID-19 spread, such as masking and distancing, can be more difficult for a wide variety of reasons. Although school staff might have concerns about contracting COVID-19 from any child at school, they may be especially uncertain how to keep themselves safe if mitigation strategies are not possible or a child's routine needs create exposures.

To approach these and other challenges, our team has been working to create common-sense solutions. After "crowdsourcing" ideas to ensure safe in-person education for these children, an independent group of Wisconsin teachers, nurses, families, family advocates, DPI leaders, clinicians, and others, identified those ideas that promote equity, are practical, sustainable, and likely to prevent COVID-19 spread. This work reflects the voices and opinions of those out there in schools and communities doing the hard work of educating our state's youth.

There are several specific things you can do:

  • First, visit to see the results of this work. Here you can find downloadable tools to support safe school attendance for these children and their communities. You will also find links to reputable resources. Check back frequently as these tools continue to grow and evolve.
  • Second, send us your feedback so that we can develop tools that meet your specific needs.
  • Third, recognize that the safety of this vulnerable group of children requires the safety of all children and staff. That means to keep the most medically fragile children safe, the entire community needs to be safe - meaning vaccinated, masked, distanced, and tested when appropriate. Doing this for ourselves is a critical piece of the puzzle to educating our sickest children. And for these children – school is health.

Subscriber submission: ReSET CMC team with research that was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health