Health and Safety Guidance

Engaging in in-person learning while the virus causing COVID-19 remains in circulation requires thoughtful considerations and carefully detailed planning. Any shift to in-person learning requires a layered approach to risk-reduction strategies including physical distancing when possible, mask-wearing, frequent hand washing, appropriate PPE, symptom screening, contact tracing, cough and sneeze etiquette, and other safety practices. Each strategy complements the others to mitigate the overall risk of transmission. This plan is based on guidance from ​Public Health Madison & Dane County​, the ​Wisconsin.

Contact Tracing

MMSD School Nurses will collaborate with Public Health Madison & Dane County to provide contact tracing within schools for MMSD employees and students, following the PHMDC’s ​Action Plan for Confirmed or Suspected COVID-19 Case in a Dane County School. Contact tracing for COVID-19 typically involves the following:

  1. Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone they had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious.
  2. Notifying school contacts of their potential exposure.
  3. Referring contacts for testing.
  4. Monitoring contacts for ​signs and symptoms of COVID-19​.
  5. Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period.
  6. Sending classroom and school CO-19 letters.
  7. Steps to take when a staff member ​is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and when there is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
  8. Steps to take when a student ​is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and when there is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

physical distancingBack Up - Physical Distancing

The overall goal of social distancing is to increase the physical space between members of the school community to reduce unintended exposures. As a key safety strategy, schools will continue keeping a six foot physical distance between individuals as the ideal distance to ensure the highest level of safety. However, recent research shows reducing physical distance down to three feet in classroom settings can still be safe, especially among younger students.  As a result, MMSD will allow some distance flexibility when circumstances do not permit six feet.

Our district’s physical distance strategy includes:

  • Maintaining a distance of six feet to the greatest extent possible.

  • When a classroom does not allow for six feet of spacing, schools may use limited flexibility in distancing to a minimum of three feet, as long as all other key safety strategies are followed, including:

    • The classroom remains as a cohort/group/pod throughout the day

    • Masks are worn and properly fitted 

    • Hand hygiene routines exist

    • Symptom screening is in place

  • If for any reason a student is unable to wear a mask, a six foot distance between students should be maintained.  

All other areas of the school, outside the specified classroom, will maintain six feet of distance to the greatest extent possible.

    • Increase space between chairs, desks, and all seating spaces. Remind staff, children, and their families to maintain a safe distance from each other during drop-off and pick-up.
    • Keep groups together throughout the day and do not combine groups (e.g., at opening and closing, at lunch, at outdoor playtime).
    • Maintain the same groups from day-to-day
    • Minimize time standing in lines.
    • Develop physical/social distancing markers for individuals to remind them to stay apart.
    • Wash hands immediately after outdoor playtime.
    • Avoid sharing spaces.
    • Cancel all field trips, inter-group, and extracurricular activities.
    • Follow posted one-way hallway and entry/exit guidelines.
    • Support students eating in classrooms (using homerooms for middle and high). Have meals delivered to classrooms when students are unable to go to the lunchroom.
    • When working with students, maintain 6 feet of distance whenever possible and limit the time you are in closer contact with the student when feasible.
    • When you are working in close proximity to a student, try to work side by side or behind the student, rather than face to face.
    • Utilize rooms that accommodate social distancing to provide instruction and services.
    • Have all seating arranged so that students are facing the same way and not face to face.
    • Provide related services in the same classroom in which the student receives other instruction.
    • Utilize plexiglass barriers if possible when working in close contact with students with communication barriers.
    • Assign rooms so that staff and students can easily enter and exit the building safely.
    • Assign so that the same students and staff are in the same room each day, with no mixing of staff and student cohorts.
    • Limit the number of individuals in the building and specific rooms within the building to those who need to be onsite.
  • Recent research regarding the spread of the virus concludes that there is no significant difference between student and staff case rates in schools that used 3 feet vs 6 feet for distancing, provided other mitigation measures, such as universal masking, are implemented. The research seems even more conclusive for younger students.

  • At this time the Close Contact definitions and guidelines will remain the same.

  • This research abstract (published by Clinical Infectious Diseases on 3/10/21) is based on a study comparing 3 foot to 6 foot distancing in over 250 school districts in Massachusetts, involving over 600,000 students and staff.  It concluded that “there is no significant difference in K-12 student and staff SARS-CoV-2 case rates in Massachusetts public school districts that implemented ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing between students, provided other mitigation measures, such as universal masking, are implemented”. Here is a PDF of the full text of the article.

    The ABC Science Collaborative pairs scientists and physicians with school and community leaders to help them understand the most current and relevant data about COVID-19 so they may make decisions that will keep teachers, staff, and children safe if and when they return to the classroom. The Duke School of Medicine and the Duke Clinical Research Institute developed the ABC Science Collaborative in response to COVID-19 and its impact on schooling. Duke and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine are working together to lead the program, which receives its funding from the National Institutes of Health.

    The ABC Science Collaborative, in a guidance document published 3/3/21 included that “physical distancing to 3’ is safe in elementary schools with mitigation strategies practiced”. They also stated that “distancing to 3’ is likely safe in high school and middle school with strong mitigation and transparent reporting of cases.

    In addition, a Wood County, Wisconsin study including over 5500 students and staff at 17 different schools (published in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report on 1/29/21), concluded that with masking requirements and student cohorting, transmission risk within schools appeared low.  In the study, 89% of elementary students were distanced less than 6’ in the classroom (primarily between 3’ and 6’).

    Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health also wrote an op-ed that was published in the Washington Post on 11/20/20 advocating for 3 feet distancing in schools as well.

hand washingWash Up - Hand Washing & Hand Sanitizer

Hand washing​ is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from getting sick. Washing your hands can keep you healthy and prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections from one person to the next.

    • Touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
    • Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
    • Touch a contaminated surface or object
    • Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects
    • Enter or leave classrooms

    Wash your hands:

    • Upon entering and leaving school.
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • After using the restroom.
    • Before eating or preparing food.
    • Before and after touching your face.
    • After contact with animals or pets.
    • After playing outside.
    • Before and after providing routine care for another person who needs assistance.
    • After touching frequently touched areas and shared items (e.g., door knobs, handrails, shared computers).
    • Before putting on PPE and after taking off PPE (e.g., before putting on gloves for cleaning and after taking off gloves for cleaning).
    1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), keep the water running, and apply soap.
    2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
    4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
    5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Use a paper towel to turn off the tap.

    Use Hand Sanitizer​ When You Can’t Use Soap and Water

    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations.
    • Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. However,
    • Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
    • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
    • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
    • Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
    • Rub your hands together.
    • Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds
    • If a student is unable to sanitize their own hands, first sanitize the student’s hands, then your own.

face maskMask Up - Cloth Face Coverings

Cloth face coverings​ protect others if the wearer is infected with COVID-19 and is not aware. Cloth masks may also offer some level of protection for the wearer. There are currently two Orders in effect regarding face coverings: one from​ Governor Tony Ever’s office​ that is in effect and covers all of Wisconsin and one from Public Health Madison & Dane County​. These orders now require students​ who are over five years of age and all staff to wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when indoors and on buses and ​if within 6 feet of working with an individual outdoors.Mask exemptions will be granted after staff have been granted an ADA accommodation by the HR Department. Students who may need an exemption must work with school personnel to determine if an accommodation is appropriate.

    • Make/buy and wear masks by following ​CDC guidance​ and guidance from ​Public Health Madison Dane County
    • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth while wearing cloth masks to prevent potential contamination.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly before putting on the mask.
    • Remove the mask carefully and wash your hands thoroughly after removing.
    • Wash the mask after each use.
    • After taking off cloth masks, store in breathable paper bags. Do not store in plastic bags.
    • Wearing cloth masks does not replace the need to continue frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the face, and practicing social distancing, which are our best tools to help prevent the spread of illness.
    • Cloth masks do not provide adequate protection for others if a staff member has symptoms compatible with COVID-19. Ill staff members should stay at home.
  • Staff: All staff must wear a mask. Some employees may qualify for an ADA accommodation. If an employee is unable to wear a mask, principals should connect them with Human Resources.

    Students:​ Students are expected to wear masks unless:

    • The student has a disability related condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. IEP and 504 teams should meet to discuss what accommodations the student may need and determine if the student will receive face-to-face instruction. Staff should take extra precautions (e.g., a face shield with a mask) if a student is unable to wear a mask. Efforts should be made to desensitize the student to wearing a mask (consult Occupational Therapy).
    • The student is unable to remove their mask themselves.
  • Recognizing that some special education functions necessitate faces to be visible during instruction, Student Services will supply clear face masks and face shields with masks to staff or students who need them. Connect with the Assistant Director of Special Education to ask for these face coverings.

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE​) refers to specialized clothing or equipment worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials. PPE prevents contact with an infectious agent or body fluid that may contain an infectious agent by creating a barrier between the potential infectious material and the individual. MMSD provides additional PPE to school staff who need extra protection due to occupational exposure such as nurses, nurses' assistants, and others providing direct health care to students. Personal Protective Equipment​ can include gloves, gowns, surgical masks, respirators, eye protection, face shields, and goggles.

someone sneezingCover Up - Cough/Sneeze Etiquette

Cough Etiquette​ helps prevent the spread of infection. This involves covering your mouth and nose:

  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose using your upper sleeve or elbow.
  • Or, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.Toss the used tissue in the garbage.
  • After coughing or sneezing, wash hands with soap and water, especially if you’re caring for the sick.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.

a house iconStaying Home When Sick

Prior to coming to school, students and staff should conduct daily symptom checks and stay home if they are

  • sick and do not feel well
  • have signs or symptoms of COVID-19​ or have been tested for COVID-19
  • identified as a close contact to someone with COVID-19
  • if they are asked by Public Health, health care provider or school to isolate or quarantine at home present with the symptoms outlined is the DPI guidance ​Returning to School After COVID-19

a school building iconSafety in our Buildings

We've made several adjustments in preparation for students and staff to return to buildings. Some of those are outlined below:

MMSD Covid-19 Building Analysis Final Report

Air Quality

In November our school board approved a proposal for nearly $300,000 in medical-grade filters in all our buildings' air handling systems. In addition, we have adjusted our HVAC settings so that we are getting as much fresh air into buildings as possible. In winter, this means we need to burn a bit more natural gas to keep buildings warm, but we are doing everything we can to bring as much fresh air in.

Every 10 minutes, the entire volume of each classroom's air is circulated and filtered. We have adjusted the system to allow for even more fresh air to enter the system by flushing the air two hours prior to 6:00 a.m. and for 2 hours again at the end of each day.

Water Safety

Stagnant water can be a concern when a building's water systems are not in use, so we have followed procedures for ensuring sure our water is safe. Based on recommendations from the CDC, Public Health Madison & Dane County, and ESPRI (Environmental Science, Policy, and Research Institute), MMSD has developed an Unoccupied Domestic Water Flushing Procedure that is being performed every two weeks during periods when buildings have little water usage.

This procedure is designed to flush out all stagnant water from the plumbing system. Shower heads, faucets, sprayers, and aerators are also cleaned during each plumbing system flush.

Navigating and Signage

While teaching and practicing healthy behaviors such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, and covering coughs will be our primary means of maintaining healthy environments, signage will supplement these efforts and serve as reminders of healthy practices. Some signs contain information in three languages English, Hmong and Spanish. These will be displayed at building entrances and in areas close to building entrances, Welcome Centers and main offices.

View hand washing and hand rubbing signs and how to safely wear your mask sign.
View other signage.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Custodial and Maintenance staff will focus on “high touch-point” disinfection cleaning as the first priority. High touch-point areas include desks, tabletops, doorknobs, railings, light and water fixtures, restroom stall door locks, elevator buttons, countertops, chair arms, and phones.

Classroom floors will be wet mopped a minimum of twice per week and spot mopped daily as needed. All classrooms have been outfitted with classroom cleaning kits which will be restocked on a daily basis by our custodians.


  • School communities are preparing to work hard to teach and practice some new routines and behaviors, such as wearing a face covering and maintaining distance. All MMSD staff are required to complete a COVID-19 training module in our Talent Portal by January 22, 2021. Training addressed the following:

    • Physical Distancing

    • Personal Protective Equipment/Masks and Cloth Face Covering

    • Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizer

    • Symptom Screening and Temperature Taking 

  • Every morning families and staff will receive an email prompting them to monitor their/their child's symptoms. Students or staff who have any symptoms of illness will be directed to stay home. (Any symptom alone, such as a runny nose or congestion, may be an indication of COVID-19. It is important to stay home to avoid spreading illness to others. Those showing symptoms of illness at school will be sent home.)

  • Our school leaders and nursing teams have strong systems in place to rapidly isolate sick or symptomatic individuals, contact families and send sick individuals home. 

  • School nurses collaborate with Public Health Madison & Dane County to provide contact tracing within schools for MMSD employees and students, following the PHMDC’s Action Plan for Confirmed or Suspected COVID-19 Case in a Dane County School, and to direct any close contacts to quarantine for the required period of time. 

  • MMSD requires that close contacts quarantine for 10 days after their last exposure to the person with COVID-19 and that they continue to monitor your symptoms for 14 days after their last exposure to the person with COVID-19.

  • We have been stockpiling PPE for the last six months. We have 50,000 student masks that have already been delivered to our buildings, we well as PPE for staff members. 

    Specialized PPE, such as plastic face shields, are available for staff members who may be in close proximity with students with special needs as well as our nursing staff. 

    We are grateful for our community partners, including the Boys and Girls Club and the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, who have stepped us to support our students and families in so many ways, including donations of masks. 

    All staff must wear a mask. Some employees may qualify for an ADA accommodation. If an employee is unable to wear a mask, principals should connect them with Human Resources.

  • Students are expected to wear masks unless the student has a disability related condition that prevents them from wearing a mask or removing their mask themselves. IEP and 504 teams will meet to discuss what accommodations the student may need and determine if the student will receive face-to-face instruction. Staff should take extra precautions (e.g., a face shield with a mask) if a student is unable to wear a mask. Efforts should be made to desensitize the student to wearing a mask (consult Occupational Therapy). 

  • We know many of our students, families and staff are carrying a great deal of anxiety and stress as we approach a return in person or continuing with virtual learning. We recognize that both scenarios involve adapting to significant changes. Whatever decision is made, we will be ready to support the needs of our staff, our students and their families.

  • Our goal is to support students' needs while limiting the number of environments staff and students are exposed to. When that is not possible, staff should follow all district prescribed Health and Safety procedures, including using PPE issued by Student Services and obtained through the school Health Office.

  • We have been connecting our staff to multiple vaccine opportunities and we believe that all staff interested in being vaccinated have been connected to an opportunity to do so.

  • The CDC guidance refers to small private gatherings in households and not in public so the Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) requirements for businesses, schools, etc. around masking and distancing are not changing at this time. PHMDC will continue to look at their order changes based on future CDC guidance. Their order provides the population health protection we need to keep transmission risk low. As of O3/11/21 only 20.9% of all Dane County residents have received 1 dose and 13.4% of Dane County residents have completed the series.

MMSD-TV YouTube IconIn this video playlist, you will find interviews with our reopening advisory panel, COVID-19 vaccine information, HR questions and health and safety guidance.

The playlist is now live on YouTube.

New board policies:On December 14, 2020, Public Health Madison & Dane County released new requirements and recommendations for school districts preparing to reopen. To satisfy new requirements, MMSD's Board of Education introduced new policies for hygiene, protective measures and cleaning and adopted them on January 25.