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All Milwaukee Public Schools transition to virtual learning for at least a week

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Milwaukee Public Schools.

Milwaukee Public Schools will transition to virtual instruction beginning Tuesday, because of an increase in staff testing positive for COVID-19.

The district, which was scheduled to resume in-person classes on Tuesday took a turn to virtual learning when COVID-19 cases among teachers started going up.

Superintendent Keith Posley issued a statement calling the district's transition to at least a week of virtual learning "an emergency safety measure."

The district aims to return to in-person learning on Monday January 10, but school administrators will follow developments. Many parents support the move, but others question it.

Doe Gregersen has two kids, ages 5 and 7, at MPS' French Immersion School. She said the announcement seemed sudden and a bit extreme.

“I understand if there are staff shortages, and they're not physically able to open some of the schools or staff some of the classrooms that makes sense, but I don't understand why the entire system had to close down like this,” said Gregersen.

Gregersen noted the district knew the Omicron variant was spreading and that people were getting together for the holidays. She wondered why there weren't earlier plans to continue in-person learning with that in mind.

She also said the decision makes it seem that kids and parents are paying the price of the pandemic alone.

"If somebody can go to the bar, not wear a mask, sit in somebody's face and spit right at them for five hours every night, then my kids should be able to go to school and wear a mask and sit three feet away from the other kids and continue learning. If we're really trying to prevent the spread of Omicron as a community, as a society, then we should all be in for it," she said.

WUWM reached out to the superintendent’s office, which did not make any officials available for comment in time for this story.

The Milwaukee Teachers Union MTEA advocated for MPS to return virtually this week so students and staff could be properly tested. Six testing sites were available for MPS students and staff citywide Monday.

Union president Amy Mizialko agreed that in-person learning is ideal. But she said staffing has been dire in public schools, in Milwaukee, and across the country, since a return to schools in August.

"We have long-standing vacancies, and then we have acute vacancies that have been caused during the pandemic," said Mizialko. "Staffing has been very difficult this entire first semester and increasingly so in December, when we saw cases rapidly move up the two weeks prior to winter break."

Mizialko said the district had been looking at the issue on a school-by-school basis until now.

“With the highly contagious Omicron variant that moves faster than previous variants, the cases of COVID positive in staff is significantly higher right now, just as it is in many states across the country,” said Mizialko.

In a Facebook post, the MTEA noted that the Madison School district decided to go virtual after the holidays and that the city of Milwaukee had more than double Madison's COVID-19 percent positivity numbers. That's the percentage of positive tests out of all tests taken.

If that number is high, that means there are likely more people with COVID-19 in the community who haven’t been counted yet.

As of December 23 — just before the holidays — the city of Milwaukee had a 14.3% positivity rate, which is considered “extreme transmission.” City officials are likely to update the numbers later this week.

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