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Milwaukee protesters demand in-person classes this fall

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --Calls are growing louder for schools to reopen this fall. Demonstrations are underway Monday, July 20 in downtown Milwaukee at the Zeidler Building — calling for schools to have in-person classes this fall.

A group of parents, students and school administrators from private schools in Milwaukee protested and demanded in-person classes as Milwaukee Health Department has reiterated that no schools — public or private — are permitted to hold in-person sessions in the City of Milwaukee while the city remains in Phase 4 of the “Moving Milwaukee Forward” reopening plan.

“They need to be back in school. Our city is letting adults go to restaurants and bars and childcare provides are open. Kids need need to be in school. They need to be learning,”Divine Savior HOly Angels President Kathy Konieczny said, who attended at the rally. 

Konieczny says her schools' plan was to reopen this school year using the hybrid method, meaning only 50% of the students would learn in person at a time.

"If we can demonstrate that we can do that in a safe way, that's what we are asking for," she said. 

However, now they can't because of the directive from the health department. The directive says schools cannot reopen in person until phase five. Originally schools could reopen in phase four, but it was recently changed. 

"I think it's very important for our students to get back in the classroom and have that ssimilation with their fellow students and their teachers," parent Marty Merrick said. 


Merrick said the vast majority of parents at Marquette University High School agree with him. 

“On Friday, Marquette High and DSHA sent another survey out. I know 90% of the parents at Marquette High still voiced that they would like the schools to reopen,” Merrick said. 

Konieczny feels the Health Department has ignored their concerns, which is why they took their message to its doors Monday. 

“We’ve been trying to contact the health department since March and we’ve received no feedback or no call back,” she said. 

A Milwaukee Health Department spokesperson said in a statement, "We are learning more about COVID-19 and the pediatric threat of misc together and awaiting CDC and state school guidelines. We anticipated the CDC guidelines would be released last week. Once these are released, we will revisit the "Moving Milwaukee Forward" safety orders to reflect this new information along wit the "MKE Cares" mask ordinance. If a child goes to school in the City of Milwaukee, we welcome sharing your views in a productive and respectful manner." 

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik will give an update on schools at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 21. 

The Milwaukee Education Teachers Union sent a letter, along with other teachers unions across the state, to Governor Tony Evers urging him to take action to make sure kids learn virtually initially. 


The Milwaukee Health Department responded with the following statement:
 
The MHD acknowledges the decision to open schools is an emotional one for all parties involved. Children and their safety and development are our priority during this pandemic. We are receiving a variety of letters from parents. Some parents argue not being in school in person is damaging while others argue that the risk of COVID is more concerning. We also understand that some parents are simply exhausted and need their kids to return to school in person.

We are learning more about COVID-19 and the new pediatric threat of MISC together and awaiting CDC and state school reopening guidelines. We anticipated the CDC guidelines would be released last week. Once these are released, we will revisit our Moving Milwaukee Forward Safely Orders to reflect this new information along with the MKE Cares mask ordinance.

The Phase 4 order was released on 6/25/2020 and has not changed since its release. We highly recommend reading the order and to not rely on secondhand sources. We strongly encourage anyone that lives, works, and/ or plays in the City of Milwaukee, to read the actual public health orders. They are translated in Spanish and Hmong and are available online at: www.milwaukee.gov/MMFS.

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. We used the gating criteria in the development of the Phase 4 order. These orders and the updated charts can be located on our website as they are released. It is important to make sure you are looking at the chart for the current order. It was brought to our attention during the 7/16 Public Safety and Health Committee Hearing that some may have been looking at the Phase 3 chart and not the current Phase 4 chart. Phase 4 has always prohibited schools from having in person sessions because we were waiting for federal and state guidance and without such believed it was not appropriate to allow schools to open without these detailed plans.

Some of the questions and concerns we have received are comparing bars/restaurants vs schools.  Evaluating the two is done differently for a variety of reasons especially when looking at People, Space & Time elements of disease transmission. Children will be in school for 8 hours a day. It will be incredibly challenging to maintain distancing & hygiene consistently throughout the day. MHD has been monitoring outbreaks and honestly, bars and restaurants are not a prime source of COVID-19 in our community. We salute the restaurant and bar owners for taking the necessary precautions and voluntary closing if concerns about potential exposure to COVID-19. These establishments are also restricted under order 4 to 50% of building capacity.

Lastly, if one supports or opposes school reopening this fall, please know that MHD serves the City of Milwaukee not the county at large as there is no county health department. If a child goes to school in the City of Milwaukee, we welcome sharing your views in a productive and respective manner.

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