By: Abby S. Busler
Note: Perspectives shared are limited to the factors present as of the date of the article and thus may no longer be relevant due to the fluid nature of the pandemic’s impact. Please check with your Davis|Kuelthau attorney or the author for the most current perspectives. It is important to regularly consult with federal, state and local health agency websites as well.
COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Coronavirus) is inescapable in today’s news and daily conversations. As school districts, you likely have been asked by staff, students and parents what plans are in place to address the coronavirus concerns. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) have both issued guidance addressing the coronavirus.
It is important to note that the current risk of coronavirus in Wisconsin is still considered low. Accordingly, the DHS and DPI materials are presented as strategies and advice for districts to consider. Below is a summary of the DHS and DPI guidance, as of March 6, 2020.
The DHS sets forth guidance for school districts, including information regarding quarantines. For example, if a healthy individual visited China and was back in the U.S. before February 3, 2020, then that individual can go to school as he/she normally would. However, if staff or students returned from China on or after February 3, 2020, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Wisconsin public health officials will work together to determine the level of precaution for that person.
Traveling to other areas both internationally and domestically might also require some individuals to be subject to a period of quarantine at home, even if they are well. Additionally, state and local public health authorities are in contact with any Wisconsin residents that may have been previously exposed to coronavirus and will make any further quarantine decisions on a case-by-case basis.
DHS currently states that the risk of coronavirus to the general public in Wisconsin is very low. The local, state, and federal public health authorities continue to work to identify and test any individuals infected and isolate to prevent future transmission.
Per DHS, it is not necessary to have students and/or staff to wear masks because the best way to avoid the coronavirus is through proper health hygiene habits. Those habits are routinely emphasized for any individuals to avoid influenza as well (https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/disease/covid-19.htm).
The DPI provides a sample school district pandemic plan for districts to consider when reviewing its own policies (https://dpi.wi.gov/sspw/2019-novel-coronavirus). It is recommended that each school district review its policies and update accordingly to accommodate for any possible pandemic outbreak.
Districts may also consider sending, if they have not already, communications to families, students and staff regarding the coronavirus. Communications to families, staff and parents is timely given the potential for increased travel both domestic and internationally for spring breaks.
School Districts are able to update their community regarding the coronavirus, and importantly, remind everyone to continue practicing safe healthy habits, including:
- Staying home when you are sick.
- Getting your flu shot.
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if no soap and water are available.
- Avoiding assumptions or stereotypes about who you think might be sick.
Pursuant to Wis. Stat.§ 118.15(3)(a), a student may be excused from school due to an illness for up to 30 days with the proper written documentation. The documentation cannot be issued for more than 30 days at a time. School districts are recommended to advise staff, students and families to review the CDC travel warnings and take any recommended precautions.
If the risk increases in Wisconsin, it is likely we will receive more substantive direction from both DHS and DPI. School districts should continue to follow the direction of public health officials and watch for any updates from DHS and DPI and consult legal counsel as needed.
If you have any questions regarding this article or need further information about the coronavirus, please contact your Davis|Kuelthau, s.c. attorney, the author linked above, or the related practice group chair linked here.
We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and provide guidance to businesses via our Coronavirus Legal and Business Resource hub.