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COVID-19 Prevention Is On Officials' Minds As MPS Begins New School Year

Simone Cazares
Teachers and staff at Rogers Street Academy welcome students back for the first day of school.

Early in the morning at Rogers Street Academy on Milwaukee's south side, teachers and staff members lined up along a long red carpet. They cheered loudly, holding signs and ringing bells, as they welcomed students. The school was full of excitement. Some students were eager to walk down the carpet and meet their new teachers and friends, while others were a bit more hesitant.

Thursday was the start of the school year for students on the traditional MPS calendar. It was the first time many of them had been in the classroom since the pandemic began. When Milwaukee Public Schools transitioned to in-person learning in April, only about half of the district's students returned to the classroom.

At a press conference, local school and state officials said that while they were concerned about keeping students safe from COVID-19, it was exciting to have them back in the classroom.

"We will continue to require students to wear face coverings, [practice] physical distancing throughout the building, good hygiene and frequent hand washing, sanitize spaces, ensure proper ventilation, promote vaccinations, quarantine, and isolate when necessary,” said MPS Superintendent Keith Posley. “When we all do our part, we can safeguard the health and safety of our school as well as students.”

Amy Mizialko is president of the Milwaukee Teacher Education Association. She said schools should be responsible for keeping students safe, but that it also falls on members of the community. She hopes more people will get vaccinated and continue to wear their masks.

"Every single student that you watched walk up the red carpet this morning and every single one of the students that walked into a hundred other elementary schools this morning deserve[s] a public school where they are safe, where they are welcomed, where they are included and where they are respected,” Mizialko said. “Our public schools belong to all of us. Each of us is here today to take responsibility for the health, safety and learning of every single one of our Milwaukee Public School students.”

As teachers and students learn to adjust to a new normal in the classroom, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said he’s happy to see how students and teachers have stepped up to make it happen. Even as the pandemic continues, school and state officials are hoping for a full year back in the classroom.

“Even in the midst of these trying times, I'm excited about the possibilities that a new school year gives to each and every one of us, not just our children, but adults, parents and all of the people here as policy makers who have a say in the direction in the lives of so many children,” Barnes said. “It is my sincere hope that our children and our teachers, our school and staff members and our families all have an incredible and amazing school year.”

In 2021, Simone Cazares was WUWM's Eric Von Fellow and then a reporter.
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