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

Milwaukee Teachers Share Thoughts On Getting Vaccinated, Returning To Classrooms

Emily Files
People line up to get vaccinated at South Division High School Wednesday.

For the past two weeks, school and child care workers have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin. Milwaukee is pushing to get all willing teachers who live or work the city vaccinated by March 15.

Vaccinations have been happening at the Wisconsin Center, North Division and South Division high schools and two community libraries.

“It was pretty easy,” Kayla Schwartz said as she left the Wisconsin Center Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve had other shots that have probably hurt worse.”

Schwartz is a Milwaukee Public Schools special education teacher. She works with Hampton Elementary students who have emotional behavioral disorders.

MPS has been almost entirely virtual this school year. The district started offering in-person instruction for a small number of special needs students in February.

>>As Some MPS Special Education Students Return To Schools, Parents Express Frustration With The Plan

“It’s been continuously difficult,” Shwartz said. “The kids are ready.”

Ready to return to classrooms, that is. Schwartz is too, but she’s worried about how the students will adjust after so much time without the structure of school.

Credit Emily Files / WUWM
The Wisconsin Center is serving as the Milwaukee Health Department's main vaccination site.

“I’m partially fearful to go back and see what the ramifications will be of the year away,” Schwartz said. “But I’m also kind of ready to stop going in the opposite – like we’re going in the wrong direction right now, we want to be able to make gains.”

MPS is one of the only districts in the state that remains virtual. On March 23, the school board will discuss whether to start bringing students back on April 12.

Evelyn Orta, a school support teacher at Longfellow School, said at this point, she doesn’t think it’s worth it to return in-person. Orta got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at South Division High School Wednesday.

“I would love to go back in person – in the fall,” Orta said. “We’ve put in too much time, we’ve learned way too much virtually. Let us just finish virtually, and then let’s start fresh in the fall of 2021.”

Steven Slaughter was also at South Division getting vaccinated. He works at a North Division High School after-school program — so he’s been in person with students.

“It’s kinda hard telling the kids, ‘You have to keep your masks on,” Slaughter said. “You’re constantly telling them to keep their masks on. When we first started out it was kinda hectic, but they’re really doing a good job now.”

Slaughter hopes students will return to classrooms soon. "Our kids need to get back in school, that's it," he said.

University employees are also getting vaccinated. Andrew Sen, a structural engineering professor at Marquette, got his shot at the Wisconsin Center. He’s been teaching in person.

“There’s some relief,” Sen said. “But at the same time, I think we still have to be really careful and maintain all of the appropriate safety measures until everyone’s vaccinated. Not just the faculty but also the students and staff.”

Sen said it was easy to make a vaccine appointment Wednesday at the city-run site. “I’m thankful that the city is able to do this,” he said. “And when I logged on today to make an appointment, there were plenty of spots open.”

Milwaukee Health Department Medical Director Heather Paradis said vaccine appointments for educators aren’t filling up as quickly this week as they were last week. So, the city is filling some of the slots with essential workers and older adults.

As the state opens eligibility to more people in the coming weeks, Paradis said teachers can still get vaccinated.

“All individuals, once you become eligible, you remain eligible,” Paradis said. “So there’s never a missed opportunity, so to speak. You can come at any time.”

There are open appointments this weekend at the Wisconsin Center for educators living or working in Milwaukee. You can schedule one at Milwaukee.gov/covidvax.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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