MCPASD Board Meeting Discusses Revised Plan for Reopening


Mia Burkholder

The August 24 Board of Education meeting was livestreamed on YouTube and can be watched by clicking a link at the end of this article or by searching “MCPASD TV” on YouTube.

Revised guidelines from the State Department of Health Services and Public Health Madison & Dane County, which were released last Wednesday and Friday respectively, have caused the MCPASD Board of Education to rethink plans for reopening the district during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Wednesday, August 19, the State Department of Health Services alerted MCPASD to new information surrounding health, cleaning, and virus mitigation protocols that will help students and staff return safely to school. Additionally, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) released an updated order on Friday for a phase-in plan with students returning to school in steps, starting with grades K-2, then 3-5, and finally 6-12.

Graph showing numbers needed for different grade levels to return to school.
Director of Communications Perry Hibner sent out the information expressed in this graph in an email to parents before the August 24 board meeting. (Mia Burkholder)

The new phase-in plan will be explained at the next board meeting on September 14 and voted on during the following meeting on September 28. Previously, MCPASD decided to use a fully virtual learning environment until Wisconsin reached Phase 3 in Governor Evers’ Badger Bounce Back Plan, but now, according to Superintendent Dana Monogue, “as long as Dane County metrics continue to hold and improve… we could start bringing elementary students back into our schools as early as October 12.” The updated fall reopening plan will be available on the district website once the board has been able to sufficiently incorporate information on academics, family resources, and safety protocols from PHMDC.

In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, several protocols will be implemented during the 2020-21 school year, including self-screening for symptoms, social distancing, and wearing masks. Students, staff and parents will be required to self-screen for coronavirus before entering a school building or bus. If symptoms arise during the school day, students and staff will be asked to go home. Each school will identify an “isolation room,” a separate space from the nurse’s office, where students with COVID-19 symptoms can wait to be picked up without exposing other students or staff.

If a coronavirus test comes back positive, the family must alert the school, who will then send the information to PHMDC. An email will go out to all families in the school where the infection occurred, but the student or staff member will not be named. Students and staff with positive tests will be able to return to school when they are fever-free without medication, their symptoms are improving, and it has been at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms.

The infected student or staff member will be investigated in order to identify their “close contacts”: people who have been within less than 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period. This can be 15 minutes at one time or 15 minutes accumulated throughout this 24-hour period. The school will then notify the close contacts of the infected student or staff member to let them know that they may have been infected. Close contacts may be forced to self-isolate for up to 14 days depending on the presence of coronavirus symptoms. If a teacher is forced to self-quarantine due to coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, they can continue teaching remotely. If they have symptoms, they qualify for a COVID-19 leave. 

To ensure classroom safety, when a test comes back positive, the student or staff member’s classroom must be sanitized. It must sit for 24 hours to let the air settle before the custodial crew can clean the area. This may cause certain classrooms to be unavailable, so the principal of each school is looking for alternative areas that can be used as teaching spaces in the case of this happening.

If a class has more than half of its students in self-isolation due to a positive test or coming in close contact with someone with a positive test, the classroom will be shut down and learning will move online temporarily. In extreme cases where more than half of a school is in quarantine, an entire building may be shut down.

The process after a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19 may seem complicated, but MCPASD is doing its best to keep everyone safe. (Mia Burkholder)

With the new phase-in plan, Middleton High School is on schedule for winter sports to begin practice starting the first week of November. The school board will continue to communicate with the WIAA and public health officials to “determine how to thoughtfully and safely proceed. We are hopeful that we will be able to fully participate in athletics aligned to the revised schedule, but we will need to do so safely and in alignment with guidance from local health officials and anything that we might receive from the WIAA,” Monogue states.

These changes will not be a reality for every student; as of the August 24 meeting, 775 students have decided to learn in a virtual setting for the entire school year, which has caused a shift in staffing and resources. Enrollment in online school is large enough that Kindergarten through 6th grade has two teachers for each grade level, three for 5th grade. This allows MCPASD to create and use their own curriculum: “Because we have a team of teachers that can plan together, then we can offer our own curriculum, and we don’t need to rely on the Florida Virtual curriculum,” explains Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra. The Florida Virtual School (FVS) curriculum was used last spring when school moved online. With MCPASD now being able to use their own curriculum, the switch to in-person learning, whenever that may be, will be seamless.

Wisconsin eSchool curriculum will continue to be used for students in grades 7-12 who are learning fully virtually. Classes from Wisconsin eSchool have been available to Middleton High School students for the last ten years, making board members certain that students will be able to learn effectively from this program; “We feel confident in our ability to offer those courses and the experience of our teachers in doing that,” adds Cyra. The fully virtual option provides opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous learning (live and individual work), arguably allowing students more flexibility than the universal model. Cyra assured that there would be chances for students to connect in the fully virtual classroom through team building activities. 

Several families have also chosen to leave the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District for private and parochial schools or homeschooling, with around 200 students unenrolling, the majority from elementary schools. Monogue hopes that the new phase-in plan will change that, saying, “We’d love to have them back in our district.”

As plans continue to change according to public health guidelines, there is little certainty when it comes to the 2020-21 school year, but Superintendent Monogue stays positive: “While we know this year will be like no other, we are ready to take on the challenge and to go above and beyond for our students.”


Watch the recorded school board meeting here. View the extended agenda and minutes from the meeting here.