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What Should School Look Like This Fall? MPS Wants To Hear From Families And Employees

Emily Files
Whether MPS students will return to school buildings, and to what degree, is still up in the air.

Milwaukee Public Schools is seeking feedback from families and staff about how to reopen in the fall, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The survey is available online and closes on July 8. It asks families whether they want their kids to be back in classrooms, stick with virtual learning, or do a combination. And it asks staff whether they feel comfortable returning to schools and what safety measures are important to them.

>>K-12 Schools Face Host Of Challenges As They Plan For Fall

At meetings in recent weeks, MPS officials talked about preparations for the upcoming year. Superintendent Keith Posley said he’s heard a mix of opinions from families.

“Parents are going back and forth,” Posley said. “The large majority of parents have said they’re ready to get back to school. But some parents have said ‘we will be homeschooling.’ ”

Posley said MPS is working on all-virtual learning options for families who don’t want their kids to return to school.

The district is considering some hybrid in-person/online options that would better allow for physical distancing in classrooms. Administrators say the average MPS classroom could accommodate 15 socially-distanced students.

>>MPS Considers How To Safely Bring Back Students

The hybrid scenarios include two-day rotations, with 50% of students in school on a given day, or bringing back just elementary students while older kids learn from home.

School board member Bob Peterson wondered about the staff required to pull off a combination virtual/in-person classroom.

“I find it highly improbable that we’re going to find a sufficient number of teachers to cover those classrooms in a way that is educationally sound,” Peterson said.

MPS was slower than most other area districts to roll out teacher-led remote learning after schools closed in March. Helen Harris, a grandmother of two MPS students, urged the district to do better if virtual learning continues in the fall.

“There must be accountability for ensuring that every student receives high-quality, teacher-led remote instruction,” Harris told the school board.

>>MPS Faces Criticism Over Handling Of Remote Learning During Shutdown

If in-person instruction resumes, Facilities and Maintenance Director Travis Luzney said the district plans to buy 150,000 surgical masks each month for staff and students. He said it may be necessary to hire as many as 215 workers dedicated solely to cleaning classrooms and high-touch surfaces during the school day. 

As school leaders grapple with these decisions, pediatricians are urging them to bring students back to classrooms. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said it strongly encourages in-person school because the risks of social isolation and learning loss outweigh coronavirus health risks.

MPS will announce decisions about the fall the week of July 13. Families and staff have until July 8 to give their feedback through the online survey.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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