MPS Board Approves Plan For Students To Return To Classrooms In April
After a seven-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Public Schools board approved a plan to return some students to classrooms in April. But board members, and many teachers and families, have concerns about the details.
MPS Superintendent Keith Posley proposed inviting students back four days per week, starting with the youngest grades. Families could also continue with virtual-only instruction.
Posley and his team emphasized that in-person learning is necessary to catch students up academically.
“Some of our children are struggling when it comes to virtual education," Posley said. "When you talk about K-3, K-4, K-5, first grade, some of those students are struggling. And the only thing we are asking — to give those students an opportunity to come in person that needs that.
The MPS board heard some public comments Tuesday that were supportive of the return plan, including from a sixth grader named Neylan.
“Don’t say that there isn’t a point in going back to school now, because there is,” Neylan said. “First of all, there’s a lot more we could learn in-person in these next two months, rather than being virtual for the rest of the year.”
But the main theme throughout Tuesday’s meeting was confusion — from teachers, families and board members, wondering how MPS would actually pull off a safe, socially-distanced plan.
MPS apparently told staff that classrooms would be limited to 15 students, but teachers are skeptical.
“I have 40 kids in my biggest class, the guy across the hall from me has 48," said James Nelsen. "What happens if all 40 show up? And we don’t even have a list of all the kids who are opting to stay home yet. Someone’s going to die if you approve this tonight.”
It’s true that MPS doesn’t know what percentage of families will choose to come back in-person. Posley planned to start surveying families after the board made a decision about reopening.
Board member Paula Phillips recommended surveying families first, and then making a decision after there’s a clearer plan.
“It’s still very unclear. And we’re not talking about something we’re doing in two months, we’re talking about something we’re doing in three weeks," Phillips said, "So I want to be able to actually review what we’re actually talking about, and what I’m saying yes or no to."
But the majority of the board felt parents needed immediate answers.
“Really all I’m looking for, for tonight, is a confirmation that we would offer an in-person option for the families for whom remote learning is not working,” said Megan O'Halloran.
Ultimately, the board approved the return plan with some significant edits, including capping classroom sizes at 18.
Instead of staff returning to buildings March 29, they will return on April 12 to give time for vaccinations to take full effect.
Students in kindergarten through third grade start returning on April 14. Grades fourth through eighth return on April 19.
At the high school level, the board voted to only offer in-person instruction to seniors and students at risk of failing. They’ll come back on April 26.
Families can expect to hear from schools this week asking whether they’ll opt for in-person or virtual learning for the rest of the school year.
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