August 1, 2020Christina Brey

WEAC delivers school reopening answers

WEAC delivers school reopening answers Featured Image

WEAC’s Members Only tele-town hall drew nearly 5,000 educators who heard directly from state officials about guidance around safely reopening schools. It is one of several opportunities WEAC is hosting as a benefit of membership.

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“WEAC believes any plan for reopening schools must ensure the health and safety of our students and staff and also prioritize long-term strategies on student learning and educational equity,” said WEAC President Ron “Duff” Martin. “We must have the time and resources to reopen safely… but that requires funding. WEAC restates our stance that all decisions must be guided by science. We want nothing more than to be back at school with our students, but we can only be there safely when the Badger Bounce Back benchmarks are met.”

President Martin Remarks

The tele-town hall featured Stephanie Smiley, Wisconsin’s Interim State Health Officer and the Administrator for the Division of Public Health of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, as well as Louise Wilson, School Nursing/Health Services Consultant, and Jennifer Kammerud, Senior Policy Advisor, both with the Department of Public Instruction.

DHS Introductory Remarks

DPI Introductory Remarks

The experts answered your questions live during the hour-long event, and referenced several guidance documents available to you. Here’s a run-down of questions and answers from the call, along with important links for more information.

I’ve heard to keep six-feet between students and educators, but I’ve also heard another group recommended three feet. Which is it?” – Gary, Watertown

DPI/DHS guidance in Education Forward states six feet.

What kind of guidelines are there to keep ourselves protected when we are working with children who cannot maintain social distancing? – Kathy, Franklin

DPI’s PPE Considerations for Schools addresses personal protective equipment (PPE) that staff is recommended to wear if working with students when social distancing is not possible. The DPI Special Education Department is also planning to release more guidance soon for working with special needs students, which WEAC will share out widely and post at www.weac.org/coronavirus.

Is there a list of valid mask exemptions for students attending school in-person, or is it best practice to have a student who cannot wear a mask use the virtual school option? – Derek, Cudahy

More information about masks will be coming soon, as the governor has issued an executive order requiring masks indoors statewide for anyone age five and older. There may be individuals who require an exemption or accommodation, and currently districts are tasked with determining how they might handle mask exemption requests.

Typically, band and choir are held in a large group. What are the guidelines for those classes? – Randy, Adams-Friendship

DPI is in the process of developing direct guidance for the arts, especially since the high risk related to wind instruments and singing, but the general guidance is to stay apart and implement measures to make them safer. School districts will determine individually how the arts can be supported while protecting student and staff health. This could include holding classes outside when possible, smaller ensembles and private lessons. In addition, recommendations include social distancing,  not sharing instruments or music stands, ensuring students all face the same direction, and having a teacher who faces the students wearing eye protection in addition to a face mask.

Is there a protocol in place for someone who comes to school and then tests positive for COVID? – Sharon, Milwaukee

The DPI/DHS is working on protocol to release before school starts for school districts to use, including a graphic for school nurses and employers to easily follow recommended next steps depending on the situation and determine how long a person will be out of the building. If a person is tested they are instructed to self-quarantine until test results come back and should not be in school.

Since masks are required indoors, do we still need to maintain the six-foot distance? – Bernadette, River Falls

DHS recommends six feet and masks as the safest way to conduct instruction to avoid coming in contact with droplets that may be infectious. While realizing that may difficult in schools, the face mask will help mitigate the spread. If someone comes in contact with a person who tests positive, and who has been in contact in closer than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, the recommendation is that self-quarantining is required.

Is there specific guidelines and criteria that municipal boards and school districts can adopt to lay out when schools would have to close? – Tim, Beloit

DHS is working on developing information on metrics and prescriptive guidance for how those tough decisions could being made. The decision about when to close schools depends on what is happening in the community and school district.

Can you clarify the guidelines about six feet of distance and wearing masks when working with small groups? – Barb, Kettle Moraine

Because of the possibility of transmission of the virus through the air, six-feet of distance between students and staff should be practiced along with using masks, whenever possible understanding this is not always easy or possible in our classrooms. Using cohorts, keeping the same small group of students together, is another recommended strategy. That way, should someone in the group have a positive test, a smaller group will be exposed and quarantined.

What are the guidelines or recommendations if a student or staff member tests positive? Who is quarantined and for what amount of time, and how does that impact the rest of the students and staff at the school? – Dana, West De Pere

DPI/DHS has quarantine and exclusion criteria for those decisions. Anyone who had close contact in a school setting to a case with someone who tests positive would need to quarantine. Generally, close contacts are people who have been nearer than six feet for 15 minutes or more with someone who tests positive. Quarantine is recommended for people deemed to be in close contact, even if the patient diagnosed with COVID was wearing a mask or face covering. If someone is deemed to have been in close contact, that person is recommended to get tested and stay home for 14 days since the last exposure.

What are your thoughts on PPE using shields, as well as plexiglass between staff and students, or between students when in a group? –Renee, Green Bay

DPI has a document to review called PPE Considerations for Schools for review. Facial covering and goggles or face shields are most likely the best PPE recommended for group work, as more advanced PPE is likely not available. Plexiglass offers one more layer of protection, but you would still be considered to have been exposed if you were in close contact with someone who tests positive.

What is DPI doing to get more school nurses in schools, since public health is a vital part of public instruction? –Jordan, Milwaukee

There is  no requirement in state statutes for school districts to employ a full-time school nurse, but for districts without someone on staff, the DPI and DHS are committed to providing health expertise needed in the next school year. The DPI continues to work for more resources for school districts to meet the health needs that need to be addressed, whether during this health emergency or beyond. Take action now to get federal funding for schools in crisis.

If cohorts are a recommendation, how can we do that in specials at middle school where teachers see multiple grade levels a day? – Lauren, Germantown

Different models are explained in the DPI/DHS guidance Education Forward guidance (starting on page 11). Educators are encouraged to work with their unions to talk to your administration about concerns and ideas using the information in Education Forward. Whatever the model for in-person instruction, grouping and keeping small groups together through cohorts is key.

What will busing and lunches look like? – Dave, Eau Claire

Guidelines can be found in Education Forward, along with additional busing and transportation guidance and this document about nutrition and food services. These will be difficult and potentially costly solutions in schools that return in-person, even with split schedules, and require students to learn new behaviors to keep themselves and others safe. For districts using hybrid or all-virtual models of school, the DPI is working with U.S. Agriculture Department to make sure students who are not physically in school buildings continue to be fed.