Reopening Plan

We will start third quarter virtually. If at any time conditions for bringing students back improve, we will implement a plan to safely return students back to in-person learning in a phased approach beginning with our earliest learners.

Throughout the first two quarters, district staff have reviewed health and operational metrics, while making our buildings ready for in-person instruction with rigorous mitigation strategies and planned responses for confirmed cases. After weeks of careful analysis, consultation with health experts, and close consideration of a recent decline in local cases, the metrics still do not support a safe return to our school buildings at this time.

Knowing how virtual learning impacts a number of our students has made each one of these decisions incredibly difficult. Although it is our preference to have all students learning in-person, connecting face to face with teachers and classmates, and benefiting from learning in a classroom environment, it is also our ultimate responsibility to ensure when we do return to our school buildings, it be done in the safest way possible with metrics supporting a safe return.

The decision to begin third quarter virtually was a collaborative effort and centered around: monitoring and reviewing local public health metrics; in-depth consultation with scientists, health experts, focus groups, and internal as well as external advisory teams; feedback from district families and staff; close collaboration with Madison Teachers Inc. as well as our Assistant Principal/Principals (APP) group; and close consideration of the safety of adults in multigenerational households as well as concerns over the new COVID-19 variant.

Facebook Live icon

This session is part of a series of conversations on reopening MMSD Buildings, featuring school board members, central office leaders, health experts and district staff.

An important discussion with health experts

Throughout the first semester, we have been fortunate to have regular, in-depth discussions with local health experts representing Public Health Madison & Dane County, UW-Madison, UW-Health, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. This includes epidemiologists, virologists, infection preventionists, infectious disease specialists, pediatricians, nurse consultants, professors, and more.

Their input has been a critical point of reference for us in our planning and decision-making. Some representatives from our expert panel have graciously agreed to discuss the state of COVID-19 in our community with our families and staff, and to answer your questions.

The first opportunity to do so will be Thursday, January 14 at 6 p.m., in a Facebook Live session. MMSD officials will be joined by Dr. Ellen Wald, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UW-Madison; Dr. Thomas Friedrich, Professor of Virology in the UW School of Veterinary Medicine; and Dr. Greg Demuri, UW-Health Professor of Pediatrics, for a discussion about local health conditions, pandemic-induced childhood trauma and mental health, what is known to date about the new COVID-19 variants, the state of vaccinations and more.

How will we know we are ready to reopen schools?

We continuously gauge progress on these areas to inform our recommendations. Review the current metric status in the slide deck below.

Additional resources and consideration for the four guiding questions for Reopening

  • Some data sources we rely on to gauge whether we can safely reopen schools include:

    • Public Health Madison Dane County data snapshots: Weekly data snapshots, released each Monday or when a new order is announced, highlight data points from the week. Examples include whether Dane County has few enough cases of COVID-19 for the spread of the virus it to be swiftly contained, the capacity of our healthcare systems, and the ability to identify and isolate infections to prevent further spread.

    • Public Health Madison Dane County data dashboard: Daily tally of the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Dane County, tests, hospitalizations, and deaths.

    • Update: Throughout this process we have relied on guidance from Public Health Madison Dane County to inform our decisions, and we continue to do so. There are a few notable changes in MMSD's Reopening Metrics that were informed by Public Health guidelines released on December 14, 2020

      A new requirement from Public Health is to develop and implement policies and procedures around hygiene, cleaning, and protective measures. Also new is the implementation of explicit action plans for COVID-19 cases at each school. Because awareness and implementation are so important, Public Health now also requires documentation of staff training and the posting of workplace requirements. We are on track to satisfy each of these requirements.

      Public Health also provides several recommendations. Initially, Public Health recommended that schools consider certain thresholds for the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Citing lower transmission and fewer complications among younger children, relatively lower levels of transmission within schools, and the effectiveness of various mitigation strategies, Public Health's new guidance no longer publishes these thresholds. Because the spread of COVID-19 in our community remains an important context when making decisions about reopening, MMSD continues to follow Public Health's recommendation to consider thresholds as informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      The new metrics we are consulting to help us make reopening decisions are below. An important shift to note is that we are not using thresholds for the spread of COVID-19 in our community as mandatory markers of when we would or would not reopen. We are treating them as considerations that give us perspective and context as we make decisions.

      • To open schools for students in kindergarten through grade 2, Dane County should see a 14-day average of 78 cases or fewer that is sustained for 4 consecutive weeks.

      • To open schools for students in grades 3 through 5, Dane County should see a 14-day average of 63 cases or fewer that is sustained for 4 consecutive weeks.

      • To open schools for students in grades 6 through 12, Dane County should see a 14-day average of 43 cases or fewer that is sustained for 4 consecutive weeks.

  • To determine whether our buildings are ready to safely bring back students and staff and that we have the right protocols in place, we continually assess readiness indicators, such as:

    • effective self-reporting systems for staff and students

    • safe triaging of symptomatic and infected individuals

    • safe and efficient processes for closing and quarantining classrooms, programs, or schools

    • maximized air handling capabilities and air filtration

    • sufficient face coverings and appropriate PPE inventory

    • student and staff lessons and training around COVID-19 prevention

    A variety of tools help us track our readiness, including internal guidance documents such as the current iteration of our Reopening Schools Guidance as well as tools like the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' Reopening School Buildings Risk Assessment Tool and Public Health Madison & Dane County's K-2 School safety requirements.

  • Between May and October 2020, we called on families and students to give us a sense of their instructional preferences in this environment. Our families have offered input on their intentions and preferences for their children throughout summer and fall 2020 through numerous avenues:

    • May 2020 virtual learning surveys given to families, staff and students (see results)

    • July 2020 family intentions survey (see results)

    • September 2020 Virtual Learning Feedback report (read report)

    • August-October 2020 online enrollment preferences for virtual, in-person, or hybrid

    • Analysis of enrollment for the 2020-21 school year (read report)

    • Focus groups with students, staff, Madison Teachers Inc. representatives, and families.

    • From December 9 to December 20, 2020, MMSD surveyed staff, families, and students about their intentions and abilities related to returning when MMSD reopens schools in person (read report).

  • To safely reopen schools and keep them open, we need to know how many employees will be able to return to in-person learning. Staff shortages could occur depending on the accommodations needed for staff at high risk of severe illness. We have identified we need 95% of our instructional staff for hybrid or in-person learning. Throughout this process, we have worked closely with Madison Teachers Inc., consulting them as members of our Reopening Metrics Team. We also rely on regular polling of staff to gauge the number of staff who will be available to return to the workplace once it is safe to reopen MMSD facilities.

    We also have important education and training around COVID-19 prevention as well as race and equity and instructional delivery, which we need to have staff complete before returning to school.

Covid Updates

The latest updates on the impact of COVID-19 on MMSD.

This committee monitors data, consults with health experts, reviews guidance from local and national health organizations, studies strategies and lessons learned from other school districts across the country, and meets weekly to develop and refine recommendations for the superintendent and the school board on when and whether to reopen schools and in what form.

Expert advisory panel

We are grateful for regular and ad hoc consultations with principal leaders, MTI and local health experts representing multiple organizations. When we meet, we present our best thinking and approach to date, and they provide important feedback.

Dr. Angie Hicks, Dr. Anu Ebbe and Dr. Brad Kose make up our Advisory Principal Panel. MTI President Andy Waity and MTI Executive Director Ed Sadlowski also serve as valuable consultants.

Our advisory panel is made up of health experts from Public Health Madison & Dane County, UW Madison, UW-Health, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and UW-Madison including epidemiologists, infection preventionists, infection disease specialists, pediatricians, nurse consultants, professors, and more.

Input from focus groups and collaboration

We also rely on regular collaboration with our chiefs of secondary schools and chiefs of elementary schools as well members of our community through focus groups representing students, families, and staff, including Madison Teachers Inc. and Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR).

Brief update on vaccines, testing and board policies

Testing

We have a team working closely with local health experts who are leading local COVID-19 testing efforts, to continue developing our own internal testing capacity. We are working with a rapid antigen test called BinaxNOW, which uses a nasal swab and is able to give COVID-19 results in only 15 minutes.

We currently have one site, Mendota MSCR Cares, participating in a voluntary 8-week research study pilot being conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Researchers are hoping to learn more about the feasibility of using twice -asymptomatic testing as a way of keeping programs open more consistently. We hope to be able to expand this pilot to a few additional schools in the coming weeks.

We are also in the process of developing our capacity to use BinaxNOW tests for symptomatic testing at all MMSD schools. Our goal is to be able to offer rapid antigen testing for any in-person student or staff member who develops symptoms while at school. We expect this to begin in the next few weeks. At the moment, our supply of tests is finite so it is difficult for us to anticipate exactly how long this will be available. We will continue to work with our health experts to consider all options.

Vaccines

We continue our efforts to get all staff designated in Tier 1a staff vaccinated as soon as possible. We are in regular communication with Public Health Madison & Dane County in order to fully understand decisions being made by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services regarding tiers and specific groups of staff. Together, they dictate to us which staff can be included in each group. You can find our latest update on vaccine availability here.

On Thursday The Department of Health Services announced a weekly newsletter the public can sign up for to get direct information about the COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout. Registration is now open, and archived copies of the weekly newsletter will also be available.

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 on January 11 and plans to adopt them on January 25.

FAQ

  • MMSD's Reopening Metrics team monitors data, consults with health experts, reviews guidance from local and national health organizations, studies strategies and lessons learned from other school districts across the country, and meets weekly to develop and refine recommendations for the superintendent and the school board on when and whether to reopen schools and in what form.

    Members include:

    Jay Affeldt, Executive Director of Student and Staff Supports

    Andrew Statz, Executive Director of Accountability

    Karen Kepler, Chief of School Operations

    Sally Zirbel-Donisch, Assistant Director of Health Services

    Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff, Chief of Human Resources

    Richard McGregory, Chief of Staff

    Chad Wiese, Director of Building and Technical Services 

    Oriana Eversole, Director of Research, Accountability & Data Use

    Chris Harrison, Qualitative Analyst

    Liz Merfeld, Public Information Officer

    This team relies on regular collaboration with our chiefs of secondary schools and chiefs of elementary schools as well members of our community through focus groups representing students, families, and staff, including Madison Teachers Inc. and Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR).

  • We have committed to making decisions on a quarterly basis. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible through this process and provide as much notice as possible on decisions about reopening. At minimum, we aim to provide a two-week notice. We know that any decision put into place is at risk of being modified or reversed based on rapidly changing conditions, which is why any decision that we make will also prioritize the flexibility of our model.

  • Through collaborative discussions, we have received a wealth of critical information from our expert partners. From the efficacy of various types of masks to the benefits and challenges of various cohort models and weekly schedules, our experts are able to help us weigh all the options, compare and contrast with other districts, and understand the science behind the most effective approaches. More recently, our partners are working closely with us to develop surveillance testing and immediate symptom screen testing for staff and students

  • As the majority of students and staff have been engaged in virtual learning from home throughout the 2020-21 school year, various students and staff have been present in MMSD buildings, including:

    • students and staff taking part in childcare through MSCR Cares or through private providers operating in our schools
    • students and staff engaging in special education programming
    • custodial staff, food service workers, nurses, nurse assistants, and other essential staff
    • teachers choosing to teach virtually from their classrooms
    • administrators and others
    This has given us an opportunity to develop and refine our protocols around mask wearing, social distancing, cleaning, daily symptom screening, contact tracing when there is a positive COVID-19 case, temporary closures, and communication to families and staff.

    We feel it is important for our community to be aware of the impact the spread of Coronavirus in Madison has on our schools. Our schools have strong mitigation strategies in place, and they have been extremely successful in acting quickly to prevent spread. We implore everyone to take precautions at home and in the public and to monitor your symptoms, never entering MMSD buildings if you are ill. We have published a Public Case Count, which reports on the number of positive COVID-19 cases that have been reported in our buildings, beginning September 8, 2020. We update this weekly on Wednesdays.

  • There are so many variables that affect these critical decisions, and every school district will weigh the variables and data differently. The scale of our district, and our proximity to the urban center make our context much different than those in satellite or rural communities. We are also hoping to provide consistency for our students, families, and staff, in prioritizing the health and safety of our students and staff, and would like to avoid the stress of repeated opening and closing, and related shifts from in person to virtual and back, in response to exposures.

  • As the majority of students and staff have been engaged in virtual learning from home throughout the 2020-21 school year, various students and staff have been present in MMSD buildings, including:

    • students and staff taking part in childcare through MSCR Cares or through private providers operating in our schools

    • students and staff engaging in special education programming

    • custodial staff, food service workers, nurses, nurse assistants, and other essential staff

    • teachers choosing to teach virtually from their classrooms

    • administrators and others

    This has given us an opportunity to develop and refine our protocols around mask wearing, social distancing, cleaning, daily symptom screening, contact tracing when there is a positive COVID-19 case, temporary closures, and communication to families and staff.

  • We feel it is important for our community to be aware of the impact the spread of Coronavirus in Madison has on our schools. Our schools have strong mitigation strategies in place, and they have been extremely successful in acting quickly to prevent spread. We implore everyone to take precautions at home and in the public and to monitor your symptoms, never entering MMSD buildings if you are ill. We have published a public case count webpage, which reports on the number of positive COVID-19 cases that have been reported in our buildings, beginning September 8, 2020. We update this weekly on Wednesdays.

  • MMSD has been consulting with local health officials and scientists on the new COVID-19 variant.

    As of now, there is limited information on the variant, but preliminary data suggests it does spread more easily to children and adults.

    • The data also suggests it behaves similarly to the original variant in terms of not impacting younger people as seriously as it does older individuals.