Most MPS students able to return to school in April; union calls school board's plan 'a mess'
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – After a seven-hour-long meeting, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors voted early Wednesday, March 24 to give some Milwaukee Public Schools students the option to return to in-person learning beginning April 14.
The Milwaukee Board of School Directors initially voted to delay voting until next week to allow consideration of a parent survey, but ultimately rescinded that decision and voted in favor of the administrations' plan with a few changes.
"Please give us some direction tonight on whether students are going to return in person this year or not," said MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley ahead of the vote.
Board vice president Luis (Tony) Báez told the board it was crucial they make a decision during the meeting in effort to give the district time to prepare.
"What I tried to do here with this motion was pick up on the ideas that have been discussed here tonight and help the superintendent with giving him a beginning date. I think that everybody's asking us about a beginning date. I think that the plan and the text of this motion captures a lot of what has been said," he said.
Early Wednesday morning the board voted 5-2 (with one member abstaining and another member absent) to reopen buildings. Board member Megan O’Halloran said she believed it was important to offer in-person options, especially for students with special needs and in cases where virtual learning isn't working properly for students.
"In the past, I have said, 'I'm so sorry that your daughter is crying to you that long division isn't making sense and you are on a conference call,'" O’Halloran said.
The board's plan calls for four days a week in the classroom, with Wednesdays reserved for cleaning. Staff would return on April 12. Kindergarteners through third grade would return on April 14. Fourth graders through eight graders would return on April 19. High school seniors and high school students in danger of failing would return on April 26.
Families can also choose to stay virtual for the rest of the year. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors will not be returning to classrooms at all, unless they are failing at least one class. O’Halloran advocated for freshmen to be allowed to return in order to get acclimated with their buildings, but Báez opposed the idea.
Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said what the board passed was a "mess."
"We were at a meeting for seven hours until 1 o'clock in the morning almost. And we still don't have a plan. So MPS students, staff, MPS families deserve an actual plan," Mizialko said.
The teachers' union has several concerns, especially when it comes to staffing. The board's plans would limit classrooms to between 15 and 18 students, but the union questioned how that will work in class sizes of 30 or more students.
"If 38 students return and only 15 can be in each classroom, let me do the math: I think we have 23 students who would not be receiving instruction from their teacher. They would be working with a brand new teacher out of central office or a substitute teacher or a paraprofessional, Mizialko said.
MPS parent Amanda Greif said she did not believe the board's decision is what's best for the community. She and her husband will likely keep her 6-year-old son home for the rest of the school year.
"I was thinking maybe I would send my son back if it was two days (a week). Less exposure. But with four days, I'm not comfortable with that, especially since my child cannot be vaccinated yet," Greif said.
Here is the basic outline of what the board approved:
- April 12 – All staff returns and spends two days considering district needs.
- April 14 – Kindergarten-3rd grade able to return to in-person learning.
- April 19 – Grades 4 through 8 able to return to in-person learning.
- April 26 – High school seniors and students in danger of failing able to return to in-person learning. Grades 9-11 remain virtual for the rest of the year.
- School buildings and central office to open to the public by April 12.
- Testing permission required for students and staff to return.
- 10 percent of each school staff and students will be tested every other week.
- Maintain a quota of no more than 15 kids per class. Can be increased to 18 kids if room is large enough.
- Division of labor between virtual and in-person teachers. Extra staff provided for hybrid classes.
- Ensure IEP and 504 safeguards – articulate draft special education plan with a cohort of special education teachers.
- Develop tutoring options for failing students.
- Test air quality throughout district giving priority to classrooms and schools without window access to outside air. Report testing back to the board monthly.
- Distribute N95 masks to all specialized services staff, staff moving between classrooms or buildings and staff in isolation rooms or other critical areas.
- Distribute N95 masks for staff working with students where close contact is necessary.
- Enforce mask-wearing policy for students and staff. If they refuse, they must leave the building.
- Criteria for returning to virtual learning in the event of a COVID case: For one case in a class, the class will be virtual for 14 days. If a school has three cases, the school returns to virtual learning for 14 days.
- Developing a hotline for reporting violations.
- Add specificity to plan and post it to district website via the "Return to School Plan" banner.
- Make public individual school surveys of students returning to face-to-face instruction by April 1.
- Board members to submit top 10 questions to Office of Board Governance by March 25 for an administration response by March 30.