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

MPS mask requirement will depend on Milwaukee County COVID level

MacDowell Montessori teacher Mary Lawler talks to her fourth through sixth grade students on the first day of the 21-22 school year.
Emily Files
MacDowell Montessori teacher Mary Lawler talks to her fourth through sixth grade students on the first day of the 2021-22 school year.

Whether Milwaukee Public Schools students need to wear masks in the upcoming school year will depend on COVID numbers. MPS will require masks when Milwaukee County is in the CDC-defined high COVID category, which is based on COVID hospitalizations and cases.

Initially, MPS Superintendent Keith Posley went against CDC and Milwaukee Health Department guidance by recommending MPS use city test positivity rates for its mask policy.

But at a school board meeting Thursday, Posley’s recommendation had changed, to follow the CDC metrics. Posley didn't acknowledge that the recommendation had changed or explain why.

"When Milwaukee County’s COVID-19 community level is high, then masks will be required inside MPS buildings," he said.

That’s supported by Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson. Johnson said test positivity is not a reliable metric anymore, since many people are using at-home tests that aren’t reported to health officials.

Milwaukee County is currently in the CDC’s high COVID category. If it’s still that way on Aug. 15 when MPS early-start schools resume, students and staff will have to wear masks.

The MPS Board didn’t intervene to change the mask policy. But board member Megan O’Halloran did express concern about family reaction, since many other school districts don’t plan to require masks.

"It just becomes more and more difficult for me to stand before my constituents and say, 'We need to continue to hold ourselves out of step with virtually every other school district,'" O'Halloran said. "And so I am not proposing taking action on this tonight. I just want to be clear that I have seen some of my constituents leave the district over the way we have handled COVID."

During the 2020-21 school year, MPS remained virtual almost the entire time. Last year, MPS required masks for almost the full school year.

In the upcoming school year, Posley said schools would only move to virtual instruction if too many staff are out sick.

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Emily does education reporting as well as general news editing at WUWM.
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