Seven MPS schools have now returned to virtual learning due to COVID cases

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Three Milwaukee Public Schools returned to virtual learning last week. Four more schools have returned to virtual learning since then, including two that were added Monday, May 3. On top of the seven schools returning to virtual, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association says there are now two additional schools being evaluated after more positive on-site cases were found.

"I think that this isn’t something that we were surprised by," said Angela Harris. 

Harris is the chairwoman of the Black Educators Caucus. 

"There's a lot of questions that people still have remaining just around how COVID-19 positivity cases are being handled and if they are actually being reported accurately," she said. 

The Black Educators Caucus is calling on the MPS board to hold a meeting about what the reopening has looked like. 

"We're hoping that the board members will do the right thing and allow community, staff and students to provide voice around this very important safety issue," said Harris. 

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association says the city has been under the red-high transmission category for weeks, and mitigation efforts in some Milwaukee Public Schools aren’t being followed.

“Administration and school board are failing in their own plan," said Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. “We have reports from multiple schools on a daily basis that masking isn’t occurring, that social distancing isn’t occurring and that children are not being spaced out on buses.”

Doctors believe there may be occasional transmission within the school, but most cases represent what's happening in the community. 

“The places that have the most schools that are affected, it tends to be in communities that are also more heavily affected,” said Dr. James Conway, a pediatrics infectious disease expert at UW Health. 

Three positive COVID cases from a classroom in a two-week span force a school to go virtual. Schools stay virtual for two weeks. 

In addition to the schools that have gone virtual, more than 50 classrooms have also returned to virtual learning, according to the MPS dashboard. 

“What we have now is an increasingly more dangerous situation every day for Milwaukee Public Schools students,” said Mizialko. 

A classroom goes virtual when there is one positive case from a student, teacher, or staff member who works in a classroom. 

A spokesperson for Milwaukee Public Schools says some schools may have multiple closures from the same single case if a student or staff member who tested positive happens to spend time in multiple classes. 

"MPS is following public health guidance, which recommends the layering approach when it comes to health and safety. That includes vaccinations, mask wearing, hygiene, physical distancing between staff and teachers, disinfecting high touch areas, plexi-barriers, and encouraging anyone sick or exposed to stay home," the spokesperson said in response to questions from CBS 58. 

The spokesperson also stated that MPS does not have plans to make changes to the way students across the district are learning at this time, adding the district "has mitigation strategies in place that put our students and staff in the best position to learn and teach safely. A part of that is going virtual if a situation at a particular school warrants that transition."

MTEA says they want MPS administration and the school board to revisit mounting safety issues immediately, claiming the city health department is shifting the burden of contact tracing to the schools, and testing has also been paused by the district among the spread of variant B.1.1.7.

"These variants that are coming in are just that much more transmissible, it just takes that much less of the virus or that much more of a casual contact," Dr. Conway said. 

“Now MHD is attempting to shift the burden to contact tracing close contacts with positive cases onto MPS,” adds Mizialko. “MPS is behind in its testing at every single level. 

In response, a city spokesperson tells CBS 58, "Since the MPS COVID safety plan was approved last July, it has been MPS’s responsibility to conduct contract tracing. In meetings as recently as last week, top leadership of the school board and top MPS administrators have acknowledged this."

"I think it’s important for people to understand that educators aren’t stepping up and saying that they have these concerns because we don’t want to be at school," said Harris, "We just want to be at school in a way that’s safe."

MTEA also says staffing shortages are causing operational problems, and teachers are being asked to teach in-person and virtual students simultaneously, which is taking away from student learning. 

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