The Janesville and Milton school districts have so far held off on making any wholesale changes to their COVID-19 isolation policies for teachers and students, but it appears both districts could reduce their current 10-day isolation requirement for infected individuals to a provisional five-day quarantine within a week or so.

Janesville School District spokesperson Patrick Gasper said Janesville schools plan within the next week to depart from the 10-day isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19.

While Milton School District administrators initially told parents in an email last week that the district wouldn’t put changes in place until at least Friday, Jan. 14, the district now intends to move forward a few days earlier. The changes, if the school board approves them, would be effective Wednesday.

The move would allow people who have had COVID-19 to return to school sooner if they’re well enough to do so.

In a recommendation to the Milton School Board dated Friday, Jan. 7, Milton Schools Superintendent Rich Dahman wrote that the new isolation/quarantine guidelines “will allow students and staff to return to school or to work sooner, provided that they meet the stated criteria.”

Under updated guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students or staff who are isolating with COVID-19 infections could be allowed to return to school after five days of being diagnosed with COVID-19, as long as it has been five or more days since their last contact with anyone with a COVID-19 infection.

Milton school officials said their recommendation to the board is based on changes suggested by the CDC and the Rock County Public Health Department.

In tandem with the changes, the district also plans to recommend universal masking at all grade levels. Other social distancing guidelines now in place would remain in place.

This all comes after the CDC last month recommended a shift to a shortened five-day isolation period with masking for an additional five days as long as the person infected hasn’t been subsequently exposed to anyone else with COVID-19 symptoms after the first five days of isolation.

The shift locally is intended to quell conflicting information and recommendations that came amid an surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the highly contagious omicron variant spreading rapidly across parts of the U.S.

The changes also coincide with school districts struggle with shortages of teachers, support staff and school bus drivers who are staying home with COVID-19 symptoms.

State public health officials earlier this week lamented the upswing in infections. Wisconsin recorded its largest single-day number of new infections. Local COVID-19 infection case rates have reached record levels, quadrupling since Dec. 1.

Milton schools resumed in-person instruction after Christmas break with about 10 more students needing to be sent home with COVID-19 illnesses compared to the period just before break, according to district data. The district also reported 12 staff members in the past week were newly diagnosed with COVID-19.

Local school districts reviewing the CDC’s shift in guidance face questions of whether and how to change their own COVID-19 policies.

Gasper noted that Janesville schools, as of Friday, had not revisited their COVID-19 isolation guidelines. He said the district was continuing late this week to monitor local and statewide public health data on the pandemic while consulting with the state department of public instruction and Rock County public health officials.

Gasper said he doesn’t expect Janesville schools to make a decision until sometime next week.

Friday, Jan. 14, marks the end of a semester, and it's a day off for middle and high school students at Janesville and other districts. The new semester doesn’t officially start until after Martin Luther King Day, which is next Monday, Jan. 17.

Janesville school district administrators on Tuesday, Jan. 11, will present their school board with a recommendation to change the isolation protocols, but the district as of Friday afternoon hadn’t publicly posted its board meeting agenda.

Milton School District spokesperson Kari Klebba said the district’s recommendations will be based on the Rock County Public Health Department’s advice and understanding of the CDC’s new guidelines. She said she was unable Friday afternoon to share what the recommendations would be.

The county health department doesn’t appear to have updated its own list of school district COVID-19 protocols as of Friday.

Klebba said the district continues to offer COVID-19 testing by appointment at the district headquarters. The testing is available for students, staff and district families.

On average, Klebba said, the district continues to see between 40 and 60 people get tested each day.

“It’s in very, very high use,” Klebba said.


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