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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

'Sadly, It Doesn't Include Me': MPS Students And Parents React To Return Plan

Bay View High School
Emily Files
MPS's return plan excludes some high school students. Only seniors and students at risk of failing are invited to return to classrooms April 26 for the remainder of the school year.

Milwaukee Public Schools families have until Thursday to decide whether their children return to classrooms four days per week, for the rest of the school year.

MPS is surveying families following a school board decision to phase in face-to-face learning starting April 14. Families also have a virtual option.

The board agonized over the reopening plan for seven hours last Tuesday. Board members opted to allow a return to in-person school for kindergarten through eighth grade. But they limited which high schoolers can come back, presumably to allow for social distancing.

Only high school seniors and students who are failing a class are eligible for in-person learning.

Hasana, a freshman at Riverside University High School, is disappointed. She says she has good grades so she won’t be asked to return. (WUWM is not using her last name to protect her privacy, at her mother's request.)

"Sadly, [the return plan] doesn't include me," Hasana says. "In my honest opinion, I really wish they could bring everybody back in-person. Everybody wants that school experience ... because we’re so used to being in school and getting the education hands-on and not virtual."

Hasana (top right) is a freshman at Riverside University High School. She is pictured here in a Google Meeting with two of her teachers, Whitney Gulbronson and Nick Dlapa.

Hasana was encouraged by her teachers to voice her opinion at last week's school board meeting. She testified in favor of in-person learning, but she feels like the board didn't listen to her. She and her classmates are left wondering why they weren't included in the return plan.

"They had a lot of unanswered questions," Hasana says. "How come the seniors get to go back and the freshmen don’t?"

Hasana is also wondering why MPS would only bring back failing students in ninth through 11th grade. She says won’t that be embarrassing?

"It’s like they're putting kids on the spotlight because of them failing," Hasana says. "It’s like you’re throwing them out there like, oh you have to go back to school because you’re failing."

While Hasana deals with the disappointment of knowing the rest of her school year will be virtual, other high school students are relieved.

Tamika Ruffin is the mother of a freshman and junior at Vincent High School.

"The 17-year-old that’s in 11th grade, he said, 'Mom I’m scared to catch corona, please don’t send me back,'" Ruffin says. "And my ninth grader also said that — she said that she doesn’t want to die, and she’s seen kids on the news that have died of the coronavirus."

Ruffin also has two children in elementary school, who are eligible to return in-person. But she won’t be sending them back. They’ll stick with virtual learning.

"I have been worried about how they’re doing academically," Ruffin says. "But I’m more concerned about everybody’s health."

Other parents are eager to send their children back to classrooms, even if it’s just for a couple months. Meg Boyd has a 4-year-old and 7-year-old at Milwaukee German Immersion. She’s ready for them to return on April 14.

"I’m really excited," Boyd says. "I think school is really important. And I’m really glad that we’re taking advantage of these two months to have kids connect with their school communities and see their teachers and see their classmates, even if they’re masked. I think particularly for young kids, they don’t make friends over a screen."

Some parents and teachers have criticized MPS’s plan for not having enough details about how kids will stay socially distanced on buses and in buildings. The school board capped classroom sizes at 18, but what happens if more than 18 students in a class come back?

Boyd isn’t worried about that — she says she trusts her school to develop safe procedures.

MPS is holding virtual family engagement sessions to talk about the return plan. The first is Wednesday evening for kindergarten through third grade families.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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