Parents Express Mixed Emotions As About 30,000 MPS Students Return To School
After spending most of last year learning from home, about 30,000 Milwaukee Public Schools students returned to classrooms Monday for a new year that district leaders hope will be closer to normal.
MPS has 41 schools on the early start calendar — primarily high schools and middle schools.
At MacDowell Montessori, a K-12 school on Milwaukee's west side, students were cheered on by MPS staff members and elected officials as they walked down a red carpet and in to school.
It looked a lot like back-to-school celebrations before the pandemic, except everyone was wearing a mask.
MPS Superintendent Keith Posley said a mask requirement is one of the many ways the district is trying to keep students safe, as the delta variant pushes COVID case numbers up in Wisconsin.
"To maximize the health and safety of our school, we will continue to require students and staff to wear masks and physical distancing, practice good hygiene and frequent hand washing, sanitizing space, ensuring proper ventilation, promoting vaccinations and quarantine and isolation as necessary," Posley said.
Parents dropping off their students were feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement. Zana Smith, the mother of a kindergarten student named Nova, said she is worried about the COVID situation.
"I just got anxiety, I don’t know," Smith said. "I’m just scared. But I’m protected — I mean, I feel like she’s protected here. I feel like she’ll be OK."
On the other side of the school building, Passion Terrell watched her son walk through the high school entrance. "I am dropping off my son, Demarus," Terrell said. "It’s his senior year, so I’m super excited."
Terrell said Demarus did well with virtual learning, and she was nervous about sending him back in person.
"Because he does have a compromised immune system," Terrell said. "He’s kind of been in a bubble and isolated for the past 16 months. So I am a little nervous. But he’s older, he knows what to do. He knows to keep his mask on, wash your hands, hand sanitizer, social distance."
Terrell said she ultimately decided in-person school was the best choice because it will allow Demarus to take International Baccalaureate classes. MPS does have a limited virtual option this year, but it doesn’t include an IB program.
Posley said MPS is contracting with Edgenuity to run its virtual program for about 1,300 students. He said Edgenuity will provide the teachers, who will use a mix of live (synchronous) and self-directed (asynchronous) learning. Previously, MPS has used Edgenuity online classes primarily for credit recovery at the high school level.
On a media tour of MacDowell, teachers were talking to their students about classroom rules, including COVID precautions like hand-washing.
"What do you do with your work after you’re done?" early childhood teacher Heather Boxill asked her students.
"You put it back," the students responded.
"And then what do you do?" Boxill asked.
"Wash your hands!" the students said.
Most students, from the youngest to the oldest, were wearing their masks properly. But there were different levels of social distancing. A tenth grade chemistry classroom was packed with 28 students, leaving little space between them, while a kindergarten class had plenty of space for the 12 students there.
MPS has said it would follow social distancing practices to the greatest extent possible, but there are no caps on classroom sizes.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, although children under 12 aren’t eligible yet.
The MPS Board will vote on whether to consult with the city attorney about a vaccination mandate for teachers. That’s something a handful of other big school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, have already done.
The rest of MPS students return to classrooms Sept. 2.