Backpacks once again will bulge with books and notepads, cars will fill the high school parking lot, and students of all ages will return to classrooms in the Milton School District next week.

As staff prepares for students to return, Superintendent Rich Dahman shared a hopeful sentiment Monday, saying school district employees could receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine within 30 days.

Dahman told the school board that with COVID-19 cases staying fairly stable, the district will reopen its schools to in-person learning as planned Tuesday, Jan. 19.

The school board closed schools to in-person learning from Nov. 30 to Jan. 15 because of high virus activity in Rock County and the possibility that families would gather over the holidays.

Dahman said positive cases have increased in the district since the end of December but not necessarily among students and staff. He said overall COVID-19 trends have moved in the right direction, and case numbers have dropped since officials decided to close school buildings.

“There’s been a slight increase in positive cases since Dec. 28,” he said, “... but if you recall, that number peaked back in November and did decrease through December, and the increase over the last couple of weeks is pretty slight. It has stayed pretty steady since late December.

“Hospitals in the area remain at critical staffing shortages, so we want to make sure that we’re continuing to do everything that we can to limit the risk to our students and staff and families and community.”

The district continues to work with Rock County and with Dean Health Services on its vaccination plan, he said.

“We wouldn’t be distributing vaccines to our staff members through the school, but we will be coordinating both with Rock County and with Dean as vaccines become available to make sure that we are getting those and making that scheduled out for our staff,” Dahman said.

Staff members who have health-related jobs, such as school nurses and health assistants, and teachers of young children will be prioritized for vaccines.

“Although there’s still some uncertainty in when the vaccine will be rolled out for all school staff, they did say the hope is that within the next one month, we would be able to have everyone go through at least the first round of the vaccine,” Dahman said.

As the second semester looms, some elementary students are preparing to switch between in-person and virtual models. Students had to notify principals in November if they wanted to change.

More students are switching to in-person from virtual learning, Dahman said, but the numbers weren’t immediately available Monday.

The district was able to accommodate every switch request, and students will remain with a teacher they were working with online. Officials will look at the numbers again in March and could consider another opportunity to switch.

“It really is keeping in mind our two goals of providing a high-quality education for all students and also limiting the risk to the safety for our students, staff, families and community,” Dahman said.

Parent Tracy Hannah wrote to the school board, pointing to the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases and saying she wished the district had not pivoted to virtual learning.

“This board was wrong for not asking for other options,” she said. “Other schools in our area did, and in-person learning remained or was only slightly limited. Three wrongs do not make a right, and virtual learning is not a replacement for in-person learning. And I urge this board to look at other options in the future rather than being quick to pull the trigger strictly based on projections of the health department ...”

Athletes, coaches adhering to guidelines

After the school board voted 4-3 on Dec. 14 to allow sports to resume, Dahman said early signs show students are taking the necessary precautions to keep these activities running.

Games and meets are being held, and there are home sports every day this week in Milton, Dahman said.

After one visiting team failed to follow Milton’s guidelines, the district stopped scheduling competitions with the school and told others that Milton teams will compete only if guidelines are followed.

One district team had to quarantine after playing an opponent that had an athlete test positive.

Dahman said district officials expected that and continue to monitor athletes.

“We knew going in that there was a likelihood that that type of situation would happen and that we would deal with those situations on a case-by-case basis,” he said.