MADISON (WKOW) — Class during COVID-19 has been anything but normal. From virtual learning to changing rules on masks, physical distancing and quarantine durations, students, parents and educators have endured shifting learning environments for nearly 2.5 years.
This fall, many are hoping things will be a little more normal. District administrators and doctors say they’re hopeful that’s possible.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to have a feel to the school year that’s much more like it was prior to COVID,” Dodgeville superintendent Paul Weber said.
He credits that optimism to the additional tools now available to fight the pandemic that schools didn’t have last year.
Before the start of the 2021-2022 school year, many doctors, including UW Health’s Jeff Pothof, encouraged schools to continue requiring masks and not get rid of other precautions.
“It didn’t seem that we should put kids in an environment where they could, you know, take the full brunt of COVID,” he said. “Now, you fast forward, you know, it’s just been a year — it feels like five — but things are different.”
Now, kids can get vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive a booster shot. Therapeutics that lessen COVID-19 symptoms are widely available.
“Things are a lot different today than they were last year and the year before,” Weber said. “We’re just in a different position with the pandemic.”
That’s leading some districts, including Dodgeville, to relax their COVID-19 precautions.
Weber said, for his district, masking will be optional, there will be less emphasis on physical distancing and contract tracing is all but over.
He said the district isn’t ignoring COVID-19, but rather adapting as the pandemic changes.
Pothof said he believes that will be the approach many schools take, and he said it makes sense.
“With a lot of things with school this year, it’s this compromise between being able to run school effectively and put in what is reasonable mitigation against COVID-19,” he said.
He said some of that reasonable mitigation will include students staying home when they’re sick and schools ensuring students who have been exposed to COVID-19 properly wear a mask for at least five days.
“We still need to do our best to try to reduce transmission in our schools,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a free for all.”
However, he said the trepidation he felt this time last year as a parent is gone, and he feels better about sending his kids to school this fall.
“It’s not zero risk, but the risk seems lower, certainly lower than it was last year,” he said. “And there is some benefit there, so I’m at peace with it.”
Several area school districts told 27 News they are working right now to finalize their COVID-19 policies for the upcoming school year.