County reopening requirements allow parts of district plan
The county’s latest school reopening order contains both good and bad news for Verona Area School District families.
The good news from Public Health Madison and Dane County’s Aug. 21 order is the district’s grades K-2 half-day, in-person instruction will be allowed to continue as planned starting Sept. 8. Students in grades 3-12, however, apparently cannot have access to in-person support services, including special education.
That puts the district’s plan for “plus” opportunities accompanying its virtual learning mode on hold for its older students for at least another month, as the order specifies the average number of new cases per day must be below 39 for four consecutive weeks, with the most recent data at 42.
District superintendent Dean Gorrell told the Press that while the county’s requirements fit the district’s K-2 reopening plan, he found it troubling that the order seems to prohibit in-person special education, the 18-21 year old program and other student services that would have been a part of the district’s “plus” options.
“I believe school districts need flexibility with this order to at a minimum, provide services on a case-by-case basis of course while adhering to all the other requirements set forth in the order,” he wrote.
The county’s order prohibits any school, including private ones, from starting the year in-person for grades 3-12, and it requires schools to provide a virtual option for grades K-2. The order also provides metrics that will determine when other grades can be brought back to school in-person.
“Moving students in grades 3-12 to virtual learning is not a step we take lightly, as schools provide critical services, and in-person instruction offers unparalleled opportunities and structure for students and parents,” Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, said in the release. “Given our current case count, we believe moving students in grades 3-12 to virtual learning is necessary for the safety of our community.”
Students in grades K-2 will be allowed to attend based on lower transmission rates than older children, who have been found to transmit COVID-19 at rates similar to adults. But if the number of cases averages more than 54 in a two-week period in Dane County, grades K-2 might be required to switch to virtual learning only as well, the release states.
To bring back additional grades, the number of new daily cases would need to decrease and remain steady for a four-week period. For grades 3-5, new daily cases would need to sustain a 14-day average of 39 cases a day for four weeks in a row, and for grades 6-12, the average of permissible cases drops to 19.
The goal of having grades 3-12 stay virtual, county executive Joe Parisi said in the news release, is to make sure that outbreaks of COVID-19 were minimized.
“As we’ve seen throughout the country, schools that are opening too quickly — particularly with older students — are having outbreaks,” he said.