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Milwaukee private schools thought they could offer in-person classes but now can't; 40K students await answers

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Pius XI Catholic School in Milwaukee unveiled a military grade decontaminant Monday, July 20, to show the public they are working to reopen safely.

“This is going to be part of our arsenal, we hope, as we look at keeping the school clean when students get back,” Pius XI President Jack Herbert said.

Herbert said until recently, the school planned on letting some students return to the building under what he called a "hybrid model."

“That hybrid model would have allowed half of our students to be here on any given day."

That process is happening across Milwaukee, as private schools were unaware of the fact that the city would not allow any in-person classes under phase 4 of the reopening plan, which is currently in place.

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender says all Milwaukee private schools had been working on similar plans. However, the Milwaukee Department of Health shifted in-person classes to phase 5 of their reopening plan when they entered phase 4 on June 25.

“There were all sorts of adjustments going on, only to find out that a change had been made without any rationale, and without any rationale and without any communication, that turns that all upside down,” Bender said.

The shift in policy was not announced when it happened on June 25, and the superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, sent a statement that "it was extremely distressing for our Milwaukee schools and systems to be caught off guard by this change, since all of them had been carefully developing plans by which they could safely reopen."

The health department sent us a statement, saying in part:

"The phase 4 order was released on June 25, 2020, and has not changed since its release... since May, MHD has been using a gating criteria table for the 5 phases, which is updated with each new order to align with sector specific items."

Bender said area school leaders plan to work out a plan with the city's health department in the next 48 hours. If they can’t convince the city to change policy, they could turn to a lawsuit.

“We’re going to try to find a solution so everybody can get served in a way that’s best for the family, best for the students, and best for the school.”

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