In response to Dane County’s last-minute order on Friday afternoon that only K-2 student instruction can be in-person, the Madison Catholic Diocese announced Saturday in a letter from Bishop Donald Hying that Catholic Schools may delay opening until after Labor Day.
“In an attempt to explore all of our options with regard the County’s order, knowing that every school is different and will need to make adjustments as we begin this academic year, we are allowing our Dane County schools to delay the first day of school until after Labor Day, should they deem necessary,” the letter said.
“We are extraordinarily disappointed at this order and its timing. You have told us of your sadness, your anger, and your children’s grief as they burst into tears when you told them of the County’s decision,” the letter continues. “We urge you to contact your elected officials, Joe Parisi, County Executive, and Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health to voice your opinion.”
The order issued by Public Health Madison & Dane County is county-wide, affecting both public and private schools, and requires schools to also offer an online education option for Kindergarten through 2nd grade as well as in-person instruction for those students.
The public health order itself points out that, according to the current data, infection rates are lower for school-aged children than the general public.
While research on school-aged children continues to emerge and evolve, a number of systematic reviews have found that school-aged children contract COVID at lower rates than older populations. This is particularly pronounced among younger school-aged children. Locally, as of August 20, 2020, nine (9) percent of all COVID cases were among children aged 0-17 in Dane County. This population comprises 22% of the county population overall. Cases among 0-4 year olds comprised 1.3% of all cases; 5-10 year olds comprised 2.7% of overall cases; and 11-17 year olds comprised 5.3% of all cases. Outbreaks and clusters among cases aged 5-17 have been rare; of the 401 cases within this age group, 32 (8.0%) were associated with an outbreak or cluster. A recent analysis also showed a higher proportion of adults with COVID in Dane County had symptoms compared to school-aged children and that the most common risk factor among school-aged children was household contact with a confirmed case.
It’s because of the lower rate of infection that Dane County is allowing in-person education for K-2 students.
The letter from the Madison Diocese questioned the reasoning behind Dane County’s decision.
“Wednesday, August 20th, Dane County announced that the daily number of coronavirus cases had dropped by nearly 50% since July 13, 2020, while the 7 day average of new cases continued to decline,” the letter said. “Yet now, despite declining numbers and all the work and diligence given to following all the guidelines for re-opening, Dane County has said that only grades K-2 may return, while all other grades must start online.”
According to a report from Wisconsin Public Radio, Dane County has set metrics for opening the higher grade levels to in-person instruction.
Health officials have outlined a plan in which they would allow schools to reopen. They said in the news release that in order to consider reopening grades 3 through 5 to in-person instruction, the county must be at or below a 14-day average of 39 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. For grades 6 to 12, the county must sustain at or below a 14-day average of 19 cases per day for four consecutive weeks.
But School Choice Wisconsin, an advocacy organization supporting private school voucher programs, isn’t buying it especially given past discrepancies in the number of reported cases of Coronavirus infection in Dane County.
“Friday night dump on the weekend prior to private schools opening in person,” they posted on Twitter. “Based on # of cases. With testing still variable, case # unreliable. But union pressure is unrelenting.”
Friday’s order also prompted a quickly-organized protest on Saturday demanding in-person education be allowed.
School Choice Wisconsin is promising more reaction from angry parents.
“So far, the reaction to the Dane County order has been intense. The late Friday release combined with arbitrary thresholds reveals the order to be formed in the best interest of political adults – not kids,” the organization said on Twitter. “Parents are wise to the game. They will not go quietly into the night.”
The full letter from the Madison Catholic Diocese, signed by Hying and Catholic Schools Superintendent Michael Lancaster, is below:
August 22, 2020 Dear Parents,
Yesterday at 5:30 p.m., Public Health Madison-Dane County released Emergency Order #9, requiring students in grades 3- 12 in all schools to begin the year virtually. For many of you and our schools, this only allowed 60 hours to make dramatic changes before the first day of school. As you know, Catholic schools were preparing to open in-person, with many starting this coming week. We know that you believe that being in school, in-person, is the most effective and nurturing environment for your children. This was affirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and even the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, all of which recommend opening schools for in-person instruction.
During the last three months, our principals and superintendent participated twice each week in conference calls with Public Health, the DPI, and DHS. We asked questions, adjusted plans as guidance changed, and made sure we had the latest information. Our principals and teachers worked tirelessly to draft, revise, and perfect re-opening plans, ensuring that all CDC, DHS, and county guidelines were followed, and that no detail was overlooked in order to make our schools safe for students and teachers. Tens of thousands of dollars have already been spent to meet these guidelines.
On numerous occasions since early July, county officials were asked to provide the metrics that would be used regarding closing and opening schools, with regard to COVID-19. These were not provided until Friday, leaving many of you, who have already gone back to work, with the added hardship of finding child care. Many of you have few, if any options, given this order. Further, given no indication to the contrary, teachers were preparing to meet and welcome your children in person, while also having made preparations to adjust to virtual learning, if cases drastically increased.
Wednesday, August 20th, Dane County announced that the daily number of coronavirus cases had dropped by nearly 50% since July 13, 2020, while the 7 day average of new cases continued to decline. Yet now, despite declining numbers and all the work and diligence given to following all the guidelines for re-opening, Dane County has said that only grades K-2 may return, while all other grades must start online.
In an attempt to explore all of our options with regard the County’s order, knowing that every school is different and will need to make adjustments as we begin this academic year, we are allowing our Dane County schools to delay the first day of school until after Labor Day, should they deem necessary.
We are extraordinarily disappointed at this order and its timing. You have told us of your sadness, your anger, and your children’s grief as they burst into tears when you told them of the County’s decision. We urge you to contact your elected officials, Joe Parisi, County Executive, and Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health to voice your opinion.
As we navigate these tumultuous waters, we remain committed to working with you as the primary educators of your children, to do what is best for your children and family. Thank you for your faith in the mission of Catholic Schools.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Donald J. Hying
Bishop of Madison
Michael J. Lancaster
Superintendent of Catholic Schools