Teacher Wearing a Mask Standing in Her Classroom
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Masked students and shortened weeks split between in-person and virtual learning could be in store for Wisconsin’s schools if they reopen in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to recommendations and guidelines released Monday by the Department of Public Instruction.

The guidelines, called “Education Forward,” include significant departures from traditional schooling, such as a four-day week in which students would attend school for two days and learn virtually for two days, or having half of the student body alternate weekly between in-person instruction and virtual learning. In total, the plan is 87 pages and includes broad and specific recommendations for different scenarios.

“While I expect schools to reopen this fall, they will undoubtedly look different,” state Superintendent Carolyn Standford Taylor wrote in the guide. “There will need to be social distancing, new cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and changes to how educators deliver instruction.”

DPI envisions all students doing virtual learning, and a “vast majority of students” doing in-person learning to some degree. For schools where virtual learning isn’t possible for all students, DPI will provide some federal coronavirus relief funds to help cover some associated expenses, Taylor wrote.

It became apparent early in the pandemic that shutdowns would exacerbate disparities and achievement gaps between poor and wealthy school districts. Poor and rural schools may not have the necessary equipment for each student to learn online, and not all students have easy internet access.

Those disparities could once again be inflamed by a second wave of the virus, DPI acknowledged.

Face masks will also be encouraged for all students and teachers, in addition to schools having adequate amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, and disinfectant wipes.

Experts are mostly torn on weighing the health risks to students and teachers versus the potential educational shortfalls students may face with extended school absences. Closures have already been shown to negatively impact learning, but there is still limited research on how children are affected by or transmit the coronavirus.

Rep. Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin’s newest Republican Congressman, introduced legislation this month that would federally defund schools that do not reopen for full in-person learning in the fall. It is incredibly unlikely that bill will ever come to a vote because Democrats control the House of Representatives.