The Waunakee school board received an update on the district’s reopening plans Monday night, following the release of new public-health recommendations late that afternoon.

Public Health Madison Dane County released updated guidance for schools on Dec. 14, at 4 p.m.

In it, the agency listed five recommendations for school districts throughout the county. The health department’s No. 1 recommendation was that districts reopen schools using a phased approach.

“Comprehensive school-based mitigation strategies have lessened the risk for transmission even in areas with moderate community transmission,” the document states. “Teachers and staff may be at higher risk of school-based transmission, but with proper adherence to mitigation strategies both in the school and the community environment, this risk can be reduced.”

Other recommendations included risk-mitigation strategies, tracking COVID-19 cases in schools, developing a plan for transitioning to virtual, and implementing a school-based testing strategy.

Metrics for reopening various grade spans have been removed from the agency’s guidance.

Waunakee superintendent Randy Guttenberg shared the public-health recommendations with members of the school board Monday, noting PHMDC’s decision to abandon those metrics.

“They have a rationale for why they’re moving away from those,” Guttenberg said, “and part of it is based on putting a focus on the mitigation efforts in school. If those things are in place, are done well and are done with fidelity, then we can do a good job of controlling disease spread within that situation.”

Treasurer Jack Heinemann said the recommendations reinforce what has been said by health experts throughout the pandemic – that schools could reopen safely with proper precautions.

“When you look at these,” Heinemann said, “they’re very consistent with what we’ve seen throughout the year. And I think it’s really important that we focus on trying to get these kids back in school. You know, Dr. Fauci and everybody is really talking about that.”

Vice president Mike Brandt noted that the recommendations had already been implemented in the Waunakee school district, which he credited to the efforts of administration and other staff.

“You could’ve distilled what their recommendations were by saying, ‘Just do what Waunakee did.’ I mean… their recommendations are literally exactly what we’ve done,” Brandt said. “So kudos to the planning, the medical ad-hoc committee and everybody that’s been working on this because if they had just co-opted what we did, that’s basically what they put in their recommendations.”

Guttenberg agreed.

“That was my high-level read,” Guttenberg said, “that this really lines up well with what we’re doing.”

Board members asked whether administration had heard any discussion about the county easing its six-foot social distancing requirement, as was being considered in other places.

Guttenberg said he had heard talk of it happening elsewhere, but not in Dane County.

The superintendent also shared the results of a recent survey sent to intermediate, middle and high schoolers, asking them to select their desired learning model for second semester.

Approximately 20-25 percent elected virtual, while the rest opted for in-person learning.

“We did receive some feedback that it was challenging for parents to fill out that early, given that this was a couple months in advance (of the Jan. 26 start date). But it was a piece that we felt we needed to do,” Guttenberg said. “That’s a critical piece for our planning aspect.”

The district has set a target date of Jan. 26 for the remainder of students to return to the classroom.

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