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MPS Board Balks At Proposal To Bring Students Back In January

Emily Files
Students participate in virtual learning at Starms Early Childhood school. The MPS site hosts a day camp for students in virtual school who can't stay home during the day.

The about 70,000 students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools will continue with virtual learning for the foreseeable future.

>>School Year Starts Virtually For All MPS Students

The MPS board rejected Superintendent Keith Posley’s proposal to set a January target date to bring students back in a hybrid format, if COVID-19 metrics in the city improve by that time.

The plan was opposed by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, which pointed out that Wisconsin saw Tuesday a record number of COVID cases and deaths.

Board members were also skeptical — citing coronavirus risks and concerns about asking teachers to simultaneously deliver instruction to students in-person and online.

“I just struggle with seeing how that’s going to work and how that’s going to be feasible from a teaching perspective,” said board member Erika Siemsen. “And when we talk about increasing academics, or making those gains, I’m not confident that would move our children [forward academically] any more than fully virtual.”

The hybrid model entails one group of students in school Monday and Tuesday and another group in school Thursday and Friday, with an additional cohort entirely online. This would allow for smaller class sizes and social distancing.

The hybrid learning proposal had the support of the Milwaukee Health Department. Interim Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said there haven’t been coronavirus outbreaks at Milwaukee charter and private schools that opened in-person with mitigation measures.

>>Milwaukee Health Department Releases Rules For Reopening K-12 Schools

“I’m happy to share with you that we in the health department have not been able to identify significant spread at all in schools,” Jackson said, “which has led us to the conclusion that for a significant population of students it is most likely safer to be in schools and protected from COVID-19 because there are so many mitigation steps in place.”

Jackson said out of 62 city schools with in-person learning, the health department has temporarily closed one school due to COVID spread.

The MPS board directed the superintendent to keep planning for the day when students will be back in classrooms. But board directors say they want more stringent gating criteria, and they think January will be too soon.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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