The Wisconsin Supreme Court entered a temporary injunction that allows K-12 schools in Dane County to fully open for in-person instruction. The Court has issued a briefing schedule and will be scheduling oral arguments to hear the case.
We are disappointed in this decision and strongly urge all schools to continue voluntary phasing-in of classes for in-person instruction for grades 3-12 per Public Health Madison & Dane County recommendations. This page will be updated.
On September 1, we issued an amendment to Emergency Order #9, which goes into effect September 2, 2020 at 12:01am.
The amendment allows for in-person instruction for students in any grade with a disability and/or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) who, due to their unique needs, may need to receive in-person instruction under 34 CFR Secs. 300.320-300.324 and Wis. Stats. Sec. 115.78(2).
Public and private school buildings and grounds remain able to open for in-person instruction of students in grades K-2, with precautions. Students in grades 3-12 are still required to begin the school year virtually.
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The Current Order at a Glance
Below is a high-level overview of contents in the current order. Please refer to the full order for details.
Masks are required for most people 5 years of age and older when in an enclosed space with people you don't live with.
Businesses, Workplaces, Restaurants, and Taverns
Most businesses and workplaces can be open to 50% capacity, with certain precautions and policies in place.
Businesses and workplaces should be using remote work options to the greatest extent possible.
Restaurants are limited to an indoor dine-in capacity of 25% of approved seating capacity levels, with physical distancing between parties. Outdoor seating is allowed with physical distancing. Customers must wear masks when not actively eating and drinking.
Indoor seating at taverns is not allowed; customers may enter taverns only to order, pick-up, and pay for food or beverage. Outdoor seating is allowed with physical distancing. Customers must wear masks when not actively eating and drinking.
Public and private school buildings and grounds are only open for in-person student instruction for grades K-2, as well as students in any grade with a disability and/or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Schools must provide a virtual option for students in grades K-2.
Indoor mass gatherings are limited to 10 people or less, not including employees, with physical distancing and masks.
Outdoor mass gatherings are limited to 25 people or less, not including employees, with physical distancing and masks if in enclosed space (e.g., park shelter, outdoor seating at restaurant).
I think a business is operating unlawfully. What can I do?
We are counting on the good judgment of residents in deciding when to go out. The intention of this order is not penalize individuals but to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. Please email us if you believe a business is operating unlawfully.
Employees concerned about safety at work
For employees returning to a work environment that is not following the orders and are concerned about their safety, please review our fact sheet, workplace requirements for employers and workers.
See our Frequently Asked Questions document for answers to questions about mass gatherings, businesses, sports, and more. Below are questions specifically about the schools section of the order:
When can other grades open?
See our data and metrics page for more information on the school metrics being used and our county status.
How are the metrics calculated?
See our data and metrics page for more information on the school metrics being used and our county status.
Why did this order come so late?
Schools repeatedly requested metrics to inform school reopening and closures, and we agreed to provide them. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services told Public Health Madison Dane County that they would be releasing a “school metrics framework” with reopening and closure metrics recommendations and accompanying recommendations regarding appropriate school models associated with those metrics (in-person, hybrid, virtual). When DHS school guidance was released on Wednesday, 8/19, it did not include any such metrics. Given what the State had been indicating, we anticipated using this framework to guide local orders so that we could align as much as possible with the state. In the absence of the state metrics framework, our team had to quickly adapt metrics to be used locally. We put out our order as quickly as possible, opting to release Friday (8/21)—even though it would be late in the day—instead of waiting until the weekend or Monday morning (8/24).
What will happen if there is a case in a school once they reopen?
- Schools should follow the Action Plan if there is a COVID-19 case which includes information on how to report a case, template letters, and quarantine/exclusion information.
- We will review outbreak data on a case-by-case basis and make a determination on whether to close a school based on several factors, including but not limited to number of positive cases, extent of exposure, and contact tracing capacity.
- Reviewing details of the data and the specifics of the case will allow us to more accurately determine if school closure is needed; for example, there may be a community outbreak, but if it’s contained to a specific location, the school may be able to stay open.
- Schools and district administrators may also choose to close their schools and districts based on impediments to school functioning, such as high absenteeism and staff shortages.
- Our Order outlines the responsibilities of schools that are open for in-person instruction for students in K-2.
Are there exceptions for in-person instruction for special education, Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Section 504 plans?
Public and private school buildings and grounds are only open for in-person student instruction for grades K-2, as well as students in any grade with a disability and/or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) who, due to their unique needs, may need to receive in-person instruction under 34 CFR Secs. 300.320-300.324 and Wis. Stats. Sec. 115.78(2).
- Special education initial evaluations and reevaluations may be conducted in-person at school sites in accordance with the safety protocols outlined in the order.
- Speech-language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology services, counseling services, and orientation and mobility services as specified in a student’s individualized education program (IEP), Section 504 plan, or as otherwise required, all fall under the health care services exception in the order and may be conducted in-person at school sites if provided in accordance with the order’s safety protocols.
- Transition services for students with disabilities may be provided in-person at community and job sites if they do not involve instruction and are in accordance with the order’s safety protocols.
- Transportation services are permitted under the order if provided in accordance with the order’s requirements.
Public Health Madison & Dane County does not recommend that students and staff with underlying medical conditions receive or provide in-person support services.
Does the amendment to Emergency Order #9 issued by Public Health Madison and Dane County require in-person services to students with an individualized education program (IEP)?
No. The amended order does not require in-person services to all students with an IEP. Nor does it require in-person services upon parent or guardian request. Most students with an IEP are able to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) through distance learning. However, some are not. The amended order allows in-person specially designed instruction and/or related services when the IEP team determines based on the unique, disability related needs of a particular student, that in-person services are necessary to provide the student with a FAPE.
Dane County has increasing cases. Will that impact K-2 schools?
K-2 grades were allowed to have in-person instruction because we were averaging less than 54 cases a day in Dane County. Public Health Madison & Dane County staff consistently review outbreak data. Any suspension of in-person instruction will be determined based on several factors, including but not limited to number of positive cases, extent of exposure, and contact tracing capacity. This case increase (for now) is concentrated in UW students who live near campus with little evidence of spill over into other parts of the community. Grades K-2 closure is not deemed necessary at this time. Public Health staff will continue to closely monitor the data and update orders as appropriate.
What will schools that are open to grades K-2 need to do?
- Schools that are open must continue to follow protective measures outlined in Order #9 until risk thresholds are determined low enough to halt these measures within school settings.
- Some risk reduction requirements include but are not limited to: wearing face coverings, physical distancing, reducing mixing of groups/classrooms as much as possible, and increased cleaning.
- Our Order outlines the responsibilities of schools that are open for in-person instruction.
Are UW student positive cases included in the average number of cases? If yes, why?
- Yes, UW students are included in our dashboard totals. We use the most updated population denominator for Dane County, which is 546,695 as of July 2019. Per census rules, students would be included in this population count, as “college students who live away from home should be counted at the on- or off- campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time.” We use 546,695 to calculate rates for Dane County, which includes students.
- UW-Madison is not an island. An increase in cases on campus may impact the surrounding community, including populations at higher risk of exposure (e.g., essential workers) and populations more vulnerable to severe COVID illness (e.g., people of color, people aged 65 and older, and people with chronic conditions). As a reminder, Public Health Madison & Dane County does not have authority to inform reopening plans for UW since they are a state government entity.
UW-Madison is opening for in-person instruction. Why can’t my child’s school?
Public Health Madison & Dane County does not have authority to inform reopening plans for UW since they are a state government entity.
What effect will UW-Madison’s decision to hold in-person instruction have on our ability to reopen K-12 schools?
Actions that happen on campus can affect us as a community, which is why we’re looking at a 14-day average over a four week period and a sustained case count that isn’t increasing rather than the case count on any individual day. Our decision to reopen all grades for in-person instruction is not determined by any one metric. School metrics will be assessed in combination with Forward Dane metrics, case trajectory (increasing, stable, or decreasing), current best practices, federal and state guidance, and unforeseen influencing factors. The data page of our website has more information about school metrics.
Why can’t we reopen all grade levels sooner?
We are driven by the data and will reopen schools as the data indicates we may do so. We all play a role in helping schools reopen. By limiting trips out, avoiding gathering, wearing masks, keeping distance between others, staying home when we’re sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and washing our hands often, we can stop the spread of the virus. When the virus can’t spread, our case count decreases, and schools, businesses, and workplaces will be able to reopen faster and stay open. Opening in a phased manner carefully minimizes risk of exposure to the greatest extent possible while supporting way to get back to school. As we re-introduce in-person school, we must ensure we are still able to identify and contain the number of cases that are likely to result from more people being exposed in more settings.
Childcare is open. Why not all grade levels?
Childcare has remained open during the entire pandemic, even when schools were closed in the spring. Essential workers who keep our community operational need access to childcare. Additionally, childcare centers naturally operate in smaller group sizes with “pods” that limit mixing between children, which helps limit widespread outbreaks. Recent studies and local data suggest that elementary aged children may contract the virus at lower rates than older children
What changes were made to the childcare and youth settings requirements in the latest order?
- To reduce the risk of transmission in childcare and youth settings, no children/youth ages 0-17 can be in an individual group or classroom larger than 15 children/youth. Previously children/youth ages 13-17 could be in a group up to 25.
- Children/youth aged 5-17 are now required to maintain 6 feet distance to the greatest extent possible from other children/youth. It is important to note that 6 feet to the greatest extent possible might look different for various age groups.
What can the school building and school grounds be used for?
Schools are not allowed to be open for in-person instruction other than for students in grades K-2, however, they can still be used for other things. Staff are allowed to be inside school buildings. Schools and school grounds can be used for food distribution, health care services, as child care and youth settings, for pickup of student materials, and for government functions such as voting. Schools can be used for other extracurricular activities such as swimming and exercising as long as the other requirements in the order are met (e.g., mass gathering and capacity limits). The outdoor schools grounds are open to use (except for in-person instruction) as long as the other requirements in the order are met (e.g., mass gathering and sport limits).
- Order 1 (May 13, 2020 to May 18, 2020)
- Order 2 (May 18, 2020 to May 26, 2020 at 7:59am)
- Order 3 (in Spanish) (May 26, 2020 at 8:00am to June 5, 2020)
- Order 4 (June 5, 2020 to June 15, 2020 at 7:59am)
- Order 5 (June 15, 2020 at 8:00am to June 25, 2020 at 9:59pm)
- Order 6 (June 25, 2020 at 10:00pm to July 2, 2020 at 7:59am)
- Order 7 (July 2, 2020 at 8:00am to July 13, 2020 at 7:59am)
- Order 8 (Spanish and Hmong are included within the order) (July 13, 2020 at 8:00am to August 24 at 7:59am)
- Order 9 (August 24 at 8:00am to September 1 at 11:59pm; note an amendment to this order was issued on September 1)