Dodger Parents and Students,
I hope this message finds you healthy and well. I am reaching out to you today to share important information regarding the recent increase in coronavirus activity and the impact that a rise in cases is having on our school community. I am also sharing a newly established decision-making tool that we have developed with the Madison Department of Health to clarify how we will interpret public health data to inform the levels of in-person learning provided by our schools.
Madison Public Schools strives to provide in-person learning to the greatest extent possible.
The scientific community has clearly established that in-person learning is critically important for student achievement, student wellness, and social equity. Data from around the world also indicates that viral spread in schools is uncommon when proper safety measures are in place and community spread is managed. That said, we cannot operate our schools at any cost, or under any condition. We have been successful for much of this reopening because of the responsible behaviors of our staff and students in and out of school.
The fluidity of our current situation requires a system of guardrails that can guide decision-making in response to changes in public health data.
In the absence of clear guidance from public health institutions, we have worked with the Madison Health Department to develop a new decision-making tool which will allow us to adjust to a fluid and evolving public health environment while differentiating our decision-making based on how the virus impacts students of different ages. The system leverages the NJDOH Activity Level Index which sets forth four regional risk levels based on public health data: Low Risk, Moderate Risk, High Risk and Very High Risk. Based on the level of regional risk, we will use the following guardrails to govern decision-making.
Low Risk (Green means “Go”) - Low activity rates will permit us to increase in-person learning, progressing through phases in consultation with the Health Department. Remote learning or reducing in-person instruction should not be considered.
Moderate Risk (Yellow means “Slow”) - Moderate activity rates will require a cautious approach progression of in-person learning, moving through phases only when the Health Department is confident that doing so will not not contribute to coronavirus transmission. Remote learning or reducing in-person instruction should not be considered.
High Risk (Orange means “Freeze”)- High activity levels will necessitate that we do not increase in-person learning. At this point, we will consult with the Health Department to determine if reducing in-person learning is necessary to reduce coronavirus transmission.
Very High Risk (Red means “Stop”) - At very high levels of virus activity, we will immediately transition to fully-remote instruction (already made clear by the NJDOH guidance).
Our region is currently assessed to be at "Moderate Risk" and is trending toward “High Risk.”
Therefore, we are applying the above guardrails in consultation with the Health Department to revise our school reopening intentions based on the current risk level and student age-based susceptibility to the virus in the following ways:
Elementary Schools - As younger students are shown to be at lower risk of transmission and to have the highest need for in person learning, we have recently transitioned all elementary schools to Phase II. Within the Moderate Risk category, we will maintain our operations at this current phase. If we transition to “High Risk” and reach a determination that our in-person operations are exacerbating the rise in cases, we will revert the elementary schools to Phase 1. If we transition to “High Risk” and determine that our in-person operations are not contributing to transmission, we will maintain Phase 2 operations. Phase 3 will be considered when transmission rates stabilize or decline.
Madison Junior School - As older students are more at risk of transmitting the virus, we have added a “Phase 1.5” which went into effect on Monday, November 2. This incremental step allows students to move between classes and experience increased course offerings (similar to MHS), including live world language instruction, while maintaining six feet of distance. If we transition to “High Risk” and reach a determination that our in-person operations are exacerbating the rise in cases, we will revert MJS to Phase 1. If we transition to “High Risk” and determine that our in-person operations are not contributing to transmission, we will maintain Phase 1.5 operations. The MJS Phase 2 (full enrollment) transition will be considered when transmission rates stabilize or decline.
Madison High School - As our oldest students are the most at risk of transmitting the virus, Madison High School continues to operate in Phase 1 to enable six feet of distance. If we transition to “High Risk” and reach a determination that our in-person operations are exacerbating the rise in cases, we will revert MHS to Remote Instruction or Phase 1a, whereby only certain special education students attend school in-person. The MHS Phase 2 (full enrollment) transition will be considered when transmission rates stabilize or decline.
Our experiences with contact tracing have revealed some important lessons about coronavirus transmission in our community.
First, in almost every positive case that has occurred within our school community, the virus was contracted outside of school. Of these cases, most transmission occurred between family members or between students at indoor events where mask wearing, distancing, ventilation were not in place.
Second, we have learned that school procedures and contact tracing efforts, including isolation and quarantining, can effectively prevent transmission in our schools, so long as superspreading events do not occur outside of school.
Third, we have now seen first-hand the far reaching impact that superspreading events can cause. The recent shift to remote instruction at MJS was necessary because of reports that a high-transmission gathering may have occurred among our students. Classes were shifted to remote instruction not because of positive cases, but to provide contact tracers with sufficient time to ensure that all affected parties were isolated or quarantined.
These lessons provide an important segue to our final message.
Our ability to provide in-person learning is critically dependent on proactive behaviors by students and parents outside of school.
Recently, we have become aware that some students within Madison and surrounding communities have been engaging in behaviors that are contributing to the rise in cases. It is understandable that adults and students need to socialize and that some exposure and transmission will be unavoidable. However, all of our students and parents must recognize that indoor gatherings involving multiple individuals without masks, without distancing, or without ventilation have a high likelihood of becoming superspreading events. Therefore, we must urge all students to only gather in well-ventilated and distanced environments. We must also urge parents to hold themselves and their children accountable to these expectations. Do not risk putting yourself in the uncomfortable position of being responsible for a spreading event that causes schools to shut down.
And finally, I want to provide you with critical information regarding what specific steps parents should take when reporting either potential or confirmed exposure to COVID-19. While each instance is truly unique, there are a number of important steps all parents must take when responding to such occurrences.
In the event that a student has tested positive for COVID-19:
- Contact the Madison Department of Health ASAP. Parents will be provided with specific instructions regarding isolation and quarantine procedures for child and family members as well as potential return dates to school/work.
- Contact your child’s school nurse directly ASAP
- Indicate exposure via the school’s daily health screener form.
- Follow specific procedures to quarantine/isolate as indicated by the Madison Department of Health.
In the event that a student was exposed to a positive case of COVID-19:
- Contact the Madison Department of Health to report exposure
- Contact your child’s school nurse directly ASAP. The school nurse will explain to parents the specific procedures to allow for a return to school. In the case of an asymptomatic student, they may return to school upon completion of the 14 day quarantine period. In the case when a student who presented as a close contact becomes symptomatic, further contact to the local Department of Health is required
- Indicate exposure via the school’s daily health screener
- Follow specific procedures to quarantine/isolation as indicated by the Madison Department of Health
Only together can we hold this virus at bay. We will continue our mission of providing the highest quality learning experience possible while ensuring safety. Please continue to do your part by following this guidance to ensure that we all stay Madison Strong.
I look forward to seeing all of you soon. Until then, be healthy, be well and be safe.
Mark Schwarz, Superintendent of Schools