USM Reopening Plan Overview

University School of Milwaukee published the initial version of its 2020-21 reopening plan on Wednesday, July 22, and held a virtual town hall meeting to address questions about the plan on Wednesday, Aug. 5. (You can view a recording of the town hall meeting.) The school received more than 100 questions about the plan between those dates, and another nearly 200 questions were asked during the town hall meeting.

USM has updated the plan document (revised information is highlighted in yellow in the document) and added additional information to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) below. As more details and information become available, we will continue to update both the FAQs and reopening plan document, and communicate those updates to parents.

Additional questions about the reopening plan can be submitted via the form at the bottom of this page.

Learning Mode Decision (On-campus or distance learning)

  • We plan to reopen campus and offer on-campus classes for all students starting Tuesday, Sept. 1.
  • Families that want or need their children to learn online will have an option for a synchronous (real-time) online experience using new, enhanced technology.
The USM campus will reopen for all enrolled students on the planned first day of school, Tuesday, Sept. 1. The USM experience is grounded in community and collaboration, and everyone at USM looks forward to welcoming students back to campus. The school also understands that families will want (and in some cases, need) flexibility throughout this school year, which is why families are offered a synchronous (real-time) distance learning opportunity for students, in which they will join their classmates in on-campus classrooms via an enhanced online experience (using Zoom and USM’s new Meeting Owl technology).
Although USM’s campus is within Milwaukee County, the more stringent reopening requirements—including the submission and approval of a reopening plan—only impact schools that are in areas served by the City of Milwaukee. USM is served by the North Shore Health Department, and therefore not impacted in this way.
USM will send a brief, required survey to the families of all enrolled students on Monday, Aug. 7. In that survey, families are expected to indicate whether or not each enrolled child will begin the school year in their on-campus classrooms or through distance learning. (This decision can be made independently for each child in a family.) The school is asking families to think about this decision in one-month (or longer) increments, to assist teachers in lesson planning and classroom management—meaning, your initial survey selection for each child should indicate your plans for the first month’s (Sept. 1-30) learning for that child. Surveys for each enrolled child are due to be completed by the end of the day on Sunday, Aug. 16. An incomplete survey will be treated as the selection of the on-campus option. Survey results (percent choosing on-campus learning option to start and percent choosing distance learning option to start) will be shared with the community. Families would then continue to indicate their learning mode selection for subsequent months ahead of each new month. The specific details around this process will be shared later. However, the school understands that flexibility will be needed, and also desired, depending on a family’s specific situation throughout this upcoming school year.
USM asks that, to the best of your ability, you follow the selection made for each child each month, but respects that a family’s specific situation may change at any time, and is committed to providing all families with reasonable flexibility. If your child would need to isolate (due to a positive COVID-19 test) or quarantine (due to COVID-19 symptoms, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive diagnosis), the school would obviously allow an immediate mid-month switch from on-campus to online learning. All other requests to change a child’s learning option mid-month would be handled on a case-by-case basis, and would start with a phone call to the school’s nurse clinic (for health-related requests) or the child’s division office (for all other requests). USM would continue to evaluate this process on a regular basis and make changes to it as needed.
No; the reopening plan USM has created is not intended to be used as an intentional hybrid learning model by families. Additionally, it is not intended to be used by families as a way to move back and forth between on-campus and distance learning for things such as family vacations, parent work schedules, unique family situations, etc.
Yes; there will be limitations to extent of our distance learning experience for students. Faculty will do their best to ensure distance learners remain active and involved in the classroom, but we are not currently planning to offer a separate schedule for distance learners with dedicated teachers in charge of distance learning. Specific activities, such as labs, tests, art classes, and physical education, will be handled by individual faculty in the most equitable manner possible, depending on the specific class, activity, and situation. The plan is for students to stay with their same class cohorts even if they move to the distance learning option.
Individual classes will have a maximum number of students, and this number will depend on the size of the specific classroom for each class. In-person and distance learning students will be counted the same in determining that class size, as it is possible that the number of each will ebb and flow from month to month. Therefore, no class size would be over the maximum in the event that all students in that particular class happened to be learning in person at the same time.
No; there will not be any distinction between on-campus and distance learning on students’ report cards or transcripts.
No; USM has invested heavily to enhance the distance learning experience, and families who choose the distance learning option for their child are choosing the alternative to the preferred and recommended option, so no discounts or refunds to tuition or other costs will be provided. The school has fixed costs that do not change when a family makes use of the alternative distance learning option. If USM was required to, or would make the decision to, move all students to distance learning for some period of time, the school would reevaluate its thinking on this topic at that time.

Health and Safety

  • Face masks will be required for all students in junior kindergarten through 12th grade, and all adults, and recommended for prekindergarten students.
  • Daily health screenings will be required for all students, faculty, and staff, and for any visitors to campus.
  • New state-of-the-art filtration technology is being added to all air handler systems on campus to help kill pathogens and improve air quality.
  • Additional topics in this category’s FAQ include: physical distancing; hand washing and sanitizing; mental health and well-being; facilities; and COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and isolation/quarantine.

Daily Health Screenings

Parents or caregivers will conduct a screening, which will include taking the child’s temperature at home prior to boarding a bus or arriving at school, each school day, using the free PikMyKid app. (More information about this process will be shared prior to the start of the school year.) Faculty and staff will also use an online screening tool prior to their arrival at school each day and may be required to stay home if there is a concern that they may have COVID-19. On-campus temperature checks of students, faculty, and staff will not be taken prior to those individuals being allowed into the building.
Faculty and other staff will check student temperatures at least one additional time during each school day using no-touch infrared thermometers, in case a child’s temperature rises during the school day, or in case any medications taken by the child before arrival were masking a fever.

Face Coverings

For the 2020-21 school year, masks (cloth or surgical) will be required for all adults (including all visitors), and for all students in junior kindergarten through 12th grade. A clean or new disposable mask will be required each school day. Prekindergarten students are strongly encouraged to wear masks as well, although we understand it may be difficult for some children in this grade to be able to do so consistently.
Face masks should be any solid color or pattern material, and should not include any letters, numbers, logos, or symbols, similar to other dress code requirements. Small, discrete manufacturer logos or marks on masks will be acceptable. All students will receive one cloth, navy mask (with adjustable ear loops) at the start of the school year.
Face shields may be worn in addition to masks, but may not take the place of masks, as the specific research around the effectiveness of face shields is inconclusive at this time.
Students will be shown the proper way to take off and put on masks, including for lunch and mask-break times. Children are welcome to bring an extra mask with them each day, or keep a bagged supply of their own extra masks at school. USM also has a large supply of surgical masks that will be provided to students as needed, to use for the remainder of the day.
USM knows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to expect all students, faculty, and staff to wear a face mask for the entire school day. Individuals will be able to remove masks during lunch, when they will be appropriately physically distanced from one another. Other opportunities for mask breaks will vary by age groups, but some examples include outdoors, when physical distancing recommendations can be followed.
The school plans to make sure all students, faculty, staff, and visitors follow the new rules in place for the wearing of face masks. All individuals will be educated about the reasons for wearing masks as well as the specific rules, including those around mask breaks. We expect all individuals in our community to follow the mask policy, and any infractions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Physical Distancing

In addition to new signage indicating things such as hallway paths and one-way stairways, all students, faculty, and staff will receive guidance on how to properly maintain appropriate physical distancing. Classrooms have been set up following physical distancing recommendations, and community spaces will only be used if appropriate physical distancing can be maintained for the size of the class or group using the space.

Hand Washing and Sanitizing

Yes; all students, as well as all faculty and staff, will be trained on proper hand washing and sanitizing practices, and hand washing will be emphasized as a primary method of prevention. Hand washing and/or sanitizing will be required throughout the day, including before and after all classes and visits to the restroom, and additional time will be provided for this to occur. The school will have hand sanitizer stations throughout the building and outdoors, and all individuals will be encouraged to use these on a regular basis. All hand sanitizers used by the school have and will continue to be checked to ensure no recalled products are in use.
o Yes; USM will be educating and instructing all students, faculty, and staff on the use of a product called Zoono, which will be applied to hands at the start of every school day. Zoono is an advanced hand and surface sanitizer that USM has purchased. One application to hands lasts for up to 24 hours and protects against bacteria and viruses by rupturing their cells on contact. It is colorless, odorless, environmentally safe, and completely safe and gentle. Its protection will not be affected by additional hand washing and sanitizing with hand sanitizer throughout the day.

Mental Health and Well-being

The school is aware that this continues to be a difficult time for students and their families. Prior to the start of the school year, faculty and staff will be informed and trained on things to watch for regarding student mental health and emotional well-being. School counselors and USM’s behavioral health team have already received training, and more will occur, both for those individuals and faculty and other staff. Once school begins, conversations with students about self-care will also take place. The school is also working to ensure support is in place for staff and especially faculty—who will be going above and beyond this year in support of their students—and their families, as needed.


Classrooms, and all common areas, will be cleaned daily with CDC-recommended, EPA-certified, cleaning products. Our custodial team and school nurses have partnered with an outside consultant to develop a cleaning plan that meets or exceeds all recommendations for all indoor and outdoor spaces. Common outdoor spaces (playground equipment, athletic areas, etc.) will also be cleaned and sanitized daily. Classrooms and common areas will also undergo a regular deep cleaning.
Where necessary, classrooms and other common areas will have plexiglass dividers in place, and these will also be regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Yes; the school has made a major investment in improving the air quality, and the HVAC systems in all campus buildings are undergoing significant upgrades, with state-of-the-art bipolar ionization technology from Global Plasma Solutions installed on all air handler systems. With this technology, all airborne particles will be reduced, odors will be neutralized, energy will be saved, and more pathogens, including bacteria, mold spores, and viruses, will be killed. The system is optimized to bring in as much fresh air as possible, and is balanced as guided by building codes, and the weather. The school’s air quality and HVAC systems have always met or exceeded government standards.

COVID-19 Symptoms, Testing, and Isolation/Quarantine

You should plan to keep your child at home for COVID-19 symptoms, until cleared by his/her healthcare provider, based on the following guidance:

Does your child have one of the following symptoms?
    Cough (new or worsening)
    Chills/shivering or temperature of 100.0F or higher
    Diarrhea or vomiting
    New loss of taste or smell
Does the student have two or more of the following symptoms?
    Muscle or body aches
    Sore throat
    Runny nose/congestion
    Unusual fatigue
If your child has any of the following symptoms, call EMS or 911 immediately:
    Inability to wake or stay awake
    New confusion
    Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
If your child has one or more of these symptoms, you should also contact his/her healthcare provider immediately. Your child may also be required to take a COVID-19 test, and receive a negative result, before returning to campus.
USM strongly encourages all families to continue to practice appropriate physical distancing and follow Wisconsin’s mask order, and families are welcome to have their children (and others in the household) tested regularly or as needed, but, at this time, USM will not mandate COVID-19 testing prior to the first day of school, nor will the school mandate any extended mass quarantine prior to the first day of school, unless an individual has had a positive COVID-19 test or needs to quarantine for another reason (see below).
Any individual who displays COVID-19 symptoms or has received a positive COVID-19 test result is expected to isolate according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines (currently 10 days). Any individual who has been in high-risk contact (currently defined as 6-feet physical distancing or less, for 15 or more cumulative minutes) with another individual who has received a positive COVID-19 test result or is otherwise quarantining due to COVID-19 symptoms is expected to quarantine according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines (currently 14 days). Although students would not be able to be on campus for classes during these time frames for either isolation or quarantine purposes, they would be able to continue through distance learning.
Any individual experiencing or showing COVID-19 symptoms would be evaluated in the USM Nurse Clinic. Depending on the evaluation, the individual may then be isolated in a dedicated area of the school, with supervision, until a parent or caregiver is able to pick the child up at school.
USM will follow the Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines, which suggest testing between days 7 and 9 of the isolation or quarantine period. The North Shore Health Department also recommends another test at day 14 to confirm the result of any earlier tests. Regardless, a full 14-day isolation or quarantine must be met, and a negative COVID-19 test result shared with the USM Nurse Clinic, before an individual will be allowed to return to on-campus classes (or work, for faculty and staff).
Any positive test for COVID-19 in the school community would prompt an immediate outreach to the North Shore Health Department for sharing and guidance. It is also possible that the NSHD (or another health department, depending on a family’s home address) may notify the school of a positive test result of a USM student. Depending on the situation, it could be that an entire class may need to quarantine (including the teacher), or a smaller group of students and teachers might need to quarantine. School nurses would perform contact tracing for any school situations, and the North Shore Health Department would do so for anyone outside of the school community. Following the contact tracing, USM would notify the families of any impacted students, although, due to HIPPA regulations, the school cannot disclose any specific details of individuals with positive test results. The school is continuing to seek additional guidance on this topic and plans to share more information, including examples, soon.


  • Drop-off and pick-up procedures for all students will be modified, and USM and public school district busing procedures will also be modified.
  • Before-school care will not be offered for the 2020-21 school year, and after-school care will require advance sign-up for Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School students. All after-school enrichment classes will be suspended through at least winter break.

Drop-off and Pick-up Procedures

In most cases, no; due to health recommendations, parents or caregivers will not be allowed to enter the building without an appointment. We know that many parents bring their Preschool and Lower School children to their classrooms each morning, and we are working on a solution that would allow for a safe and modified version of this special tradition. Families should plan to schedule an appointment for meetings with faculty, staff, or administrators.
The free PikMyKid app will be used by a parent or caregiver for the required daily health screening for their child prior to boarding a bus or arriving at school. The same app will then be used to alert teachers when a parent or caregiver has arrived for pick up of that child at the end of the school day, and the child will then be dismissed to head to the exit and vehicle, where additional staff will confirm the person/vehicle the child is leaving with. More information about this process will be shared with families prior to the start of the school year.


Yes; USM busing will still be offered to those families who signed up for it and confirmed that they still plan to use it for their child.
All USM buses will operate at reduced capacity so that there are fewer passengers, in order to maintain physical distancing recommendations. Additionally, the school is requiring an "every other row" policy to ensure students are well-spaced throughout the bus. For bus routes that are very busy, USM has added additional buses to ensure that all students can be transported in a safe and healthy manner.
Yes; all students and drivers will be required to wear masks at all times when on USM buses.
All USM buses will be cleaned and sanitized between each trip. Bus drivers are being trained on effective cleaning measures to ensure proper cleaning, even when the bus is away from campus for field trips and athletic events. The school also plans to have hand sanitizer on all buses for students to use when boarding and exiting the buses.
The school is continuing to coordinate with officials in the Mequon-Thiensville School District and Nicolet Unified School District to ensure the safety of all USM students who ride those buses, although their specific protocols and procedures may vary from those used by USM. More details will continue to be shared with families in those communities as they are known.

Before- and After-school Care

Before-school programming will be suspended for this school year and families should follow division drop-off procedures for children. After-school programming, in grade-level cohorts (not including Upper School), will be offered via monthly registration, although all families will be strongly encouraged to pick up their children at the end of the school day if possible. All after-school program enrichment classes will be suspended through at least winter break. More information will be shared with families soon.

School-day Experience

  • Student schedules will change little, if at all, from previous years, and start and end times for each division will also remain the same.
  • The dress code will be in place in all divisions, including for distance learning students, although it will be relaxed somewhat for this school year.
  • The lunch experience will be modified and will make use of multiple spaces around campus to ensure physical distancing recommendations are being met.
  • Additional categories in this topic’s FAQ include: lockers and cubbies; school store; and athletics.

Teaching and Learning

Other than some minor tweaks, the student schedules will look very much the same as they have in recent years.
No; we are not planning to change the start and end times for each division this year, which are listed here. Preschool: 8:15 a.m.–3:05 p.m. (half-day students are dismissed at 11:15 a.m.); Lower School: 8:15 a.m.–3:10 p.m.; Middle School: 8:10 a.m.–3:20 p.m.; Upper School: 8:10 a.m.–3:20 p.m.
Yes; the school has evaluated the square footage and specific layouts of all classrooms, as well as other spaces that might be used for teaching and learning activities, to ensure that recommended physical distancing can be achieved in all learning environments. Class sizes will account for all students assigned to that class, whether their families have chosen the in-person or distance learning option. Appropriate changes have been made to Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School classrooms, and, in most cases, only minimal changes were needed to Upper School classrooms.
Fine arts classrooms will be subject to physical distancing and other health measures, just like other classes and activities. This does create additional unique challenges for band, orchestra, choir, drama, and dance classes, and we are continuing to review the latest research as it relates to the possibility of performances.
Division-specific plans for physical education are being finalized and will be shared with families in each division prior to the start of school. Currently, the school is not planning to have any students change into physical education gear for classes. Locker rooms may be used for storage of other equipment by students, but locker room access will be limited and supervised, with small groups of students with physically distanced lockers being allowed into locker rooms at the same time.
Shared educational spaces, such as the makerspaces (Lubar Center for Innovation and Exploration and Nerdvana), the Virginia Henes Young Theatre, and gymnasiums, will still be utilized, but with smaller capacities due to physical distancing recommendations and with additional cleaning and sanitizing.
All field trips and retreats scheduled or planned through winter break have been canceled or postponed. The school is still working to determine the feasibility of other experiential learning opportunities on a case-by-case basis, although it is likely that the majority of these will also be postponed at least until after winter break. The school is hopeful that the situation after winter break will allow for the rescheduling of some or all of the opportunities that may be missed in the first half of the school year.
Yes; some classes may be held outside when the weather and curriculum allow for learning in a flexible environment. Learning outdoors can allow for additional physical distancing and fresh air, and may also allow students and teachers who are physically distanced to remove their masks, but it must be balanced to ensure that learning can continue in a productive manner.
USM is hiring additional in-house substitute teachers who will be available in the event that any number of our faculty need to isolate or quarantine. These substitutes, as well as other short- and long-term substitute teachers from outside the school, will be trained on the health and safety protocols in the same manner as our full-time faculty to ensure that all students remain as safe as possible.

Dress Code

While the student dress code will still be in place in all divisions, it will be relaxed somewhat for this school year, given the nature of the situation. Each division will be sharing more specific information with families about these changes, since many families typically purchase new apparel around this time each year. Ties and blazers (for Middle School and Upper School students) and dress shoes (for all students) will be optional. The dress code for faculty and staff will also be relaxed somewhat. More specific details about dress code changes will be shared with families in back-to-school messages from each division head. There may be some special days (student picture day, etc.) when students, faculty, and staff will be asked to wear full dress code attire.
Yes, students who are using distance learning while on-campus learning is being offered will be expected to follow the relaxed dress code for this school year while participating in online (synchronous) activities with their classmates and teachers.
Yes; students in all grades will be allowed to be out of dress code, in USM or Wildcats gear, for Wildcat Wednesdays on the first Wednesday of every month, including the second day of school (Wednesday, Sept. 2). Students using distance learning will also be strongly encouraged to participate in Wildcat Wednesdays from home. There will likely be other out-of-dress-code days announced throughout the year as well.


At this time, self-serve stations will not be allowed due to cross-contamination concerns. However, the school will still be providing a full lunch service with choices.
Students in Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School will utilize a mobile ordering app to place their food orders, and more information about this process will be shared with families prior to the start of the school year. Ordered lunches will then be delivered to each specific dining location for these students. Upper School students will continue to use the Palermo Hall servery, selecting from various prepackaged meals and sides, and with other guidelines in place to ensure the health and safety of our community.
Students will dine in various locations around school, including in classrooms, social distanced dining rooms with fewer seats, and outdoor spaces when weather allows. The school plans to rotate students through these different options, with all spaces cleaned and sanitized prior to each lunch period. Masks will be able to be removed by individuals while eating lunch. The goal is to be able to maintain as much of the USM dining experience as possible while following recommended physical distancing.
No; students will not be allowed to bring lunches from home due to allergy concerns. USM remains committed to maintaining an allergy aware campus, and the only way to achieve that is by providing all lunches for students, faculty, and staff.

Lockers and Cubbies

Preschool and Lower School students will continue to use classroom cubbies. Middle School students will use lockers for personal belongings, and access to lockers will be managed and supervised to ensure recommended physical distancing. The Upper School is not planning to use lockers for the upcoming school year, although any family with a child that might have a specific need for a locker should contact the Upper School office. Cubby and locker assignments and access times for all grade levels will be staggered to ensure appropriate social distancing among students.

School Store

The school store is currently working on a plan for families to be able to order specific items and pick them up at school, and an option to schedule an appointment to come into the school store to shop may also be able to be offered. More information will be shared with families as this plan develops.
USM is currently working on a plan for students to still be able to access the school store for needed supplies during the school day with new protocols in place. More information will be shared with families as this plan develops, and students will also be educated about access to the school store and these protocols when they return to school.


USM fall sports are scheduled to begin practice on Monday, Aug. 17 for boys and girls cross country and girls tennis. Girls swimming is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 24. Additionally, the following fall sports are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8: field hockey; football; boys soccer; and volleyball. These sports delayed the start of their interscholastic competition, but will begin playing games on Sept 28.

Locker rooms are available for changing areas for after school upper school athletics, but not for overnight storage of items. Each coach has individual COVID protocol plans for their sport which include mask and physical distancing guidelines and will share with their teams.

Spectator policy for home games is as follows: no spectators will be allowed inside for volleyball games and no spectators from opposing teams will be allowed at outdoor sporting events on USM’s campus. USM community spectators will be allowed for outdoor events, but will be limited to two per athlete at each event. Spectator policies for away events vary and will be communicated on a game by game basis.
Yes; per the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) rules, a student is eligible for athletic participation if he/she is enrolled as a full-time student at an institution and completing that institution’s online curriculum. They make no specific distinction for a situation where there may be movement at some point within a sport’s season between on-campus and distance learning. USM will be following this policy as well for Upper School athletics.
All Middle School athletics offerings this fall will be intramural offerings, and more information will be shared with families soon. Locker room policies for Middle School intramurals are currently being worked on as well.
USM fall sports are scheduled to being practice on the following:
Monday, Aug 17: cross country and girls tennis
Monday, Aug. 24: girls swimming
Tuesday, Sept. 8: field hockey, football, boys soccer, volleyball
Sports beginning practice in September delayed the start of their interscholastic competition, but will begin playing games on Monday, Sept. 28.
This Fall, USM will allow each student athlete and coach for our outdoor fall sports to have up to two guests attend their competitions in person. Student athletes and coaches will be given wristbands to distribute to guests, and only those people will be allowed into the facility. No other guests will be allowed to attend due to our COVID protocols.

Spectators are expected to bring face masks to our competitions, and must wear a mask if within 6 feet of another spectator. At this time, USM will not be allowing any spectators at our indoor sport: volleyball. As this plan changes, we will keep you updated. Information about any of our away opponents' policies regarding spectators will be communicated to program specific families on a game by game basis.
Locker rooms are available for changing areas for after school Upper School athletics, but not for overnight storage of items. Each coach has individual COVID protocol plans for their sport which include mask and physical distancing guidelines and will share with their teams.

On-campus/Distance Learning Decision Tree

This decision tree provides a basic road map for your family to better understand your options for typical on-campus learning and distance learning.

We look forward to starting classes as scheduled this school year on Tuesday, Sept. 1 with as few disruptions to typical learning as possible.

Although safe, on-campus learning is our primary goal, we will offer flexible options for families who are not yet ready for their child to return to campus, or for situations where a child may need to isolate or quarantine for an extended period of time.

We are also continuing to actively prepare additional scenarios in the event that it is determined that typical on-campus learning is not safe, or distance learning again becomes mandated by state and/or local governments.

Decision tree for determining on-campus or USM@HOME distance learning.

Questions or Comments

Do you have additional questions or comments regarding the school’s reopening plan? If so, please complete the form below to submit these. We will attempt to reply to all questions as soon as possible, either through the FAQs or via direct response, but please be patient as there are some topics for which we are awaiting further guidance or information.