Coronavirus: Milwaukee Parents Respond To School Closures, News Of Infected MPS Employee

Mar 15, 2020

Wisconsin parents and children are adjusting to a new reality — kids staying at home with no school for at least three weeks. To slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tony Evers ordered all K-12 schools closed starting Wednesday through April 6. Many schools are closing earlier, starting Monday.

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Milwaukee Public Schools is shutting down between Monday and April 13. The decision was made Friday evening.

A day later, school district officials said an MPS employee who works at Hopkins-Lloyd Community School in the North Division neighborhood had likely been infected with the coronavirus.

Mercedes White has two children who attend Hopkins-Lloyd and she's worried they may have been exposed to the virus. She said she hadn’t heard from the district on Sunday.

“I’m finding things out from the news. I didn’t know anything about it until [Saturday] night,” White told WUWM.

An MPS spokesperson said the district is calling, emailing and sending letters to all Hopkins-Lloyd families. MPS hasn’t released details about the employee, including the job the person holds and whether the worker was in the school last week.

White’s two older children have both been sick with a cough since early last week, and they were told to stay home from school. White says she called the Milwaukee Health Department on Sunday, and staff told her that they would reach out if her family needs to get tested for COVID-19.

She says she's frustrated with what seems like a lack of planning from the health department and school district.

“They should have had everything situated first and then closed the schools,” White said. “I feel like they could have did at least mandatory testing first — like everyone get tested first and then see if they want to close.”

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Saturday that her department is working to find people who had contact with the infected Hopkins-Lloyd employee.

Jenni Hofschulte says the news about the MPS employee being infected is concerning for people across the district. Hofschulte is a parent coordinator at MPS’ Maryland Avenue Montessori School on the East Side. 

“A lot of our schools have crossover staff — people in and out of multiple buildings during the day, speech pathologists specifically, school [psychologists,]” Hofschulte said. “You know, going one place possibly being exposed, and going to the next place.”

"This is something that we're gonna go through as a community and a country, and someday we'll say, 'Remember when?' " - Jenni Hofschulte

Hofschulte says the situation with the sick Hopkins-Lloyd employee reinforces that Evers made the right decision to shut down K-12 schools. But she says there are a lot of questions, about whether staff will continue to get paid, about what kind of remote learning students might receive.

“I told our parents in our parent newsletter, we’re all pioneers right now,” Hofschulte said. “This is something that we’re gonna go through as a community and a country, and someday we’ll say, 'Remember when?' And it’s OK to be gentle with each other.”

Hofschulte is working with other parent advocates to arrange help for those who might need it. More than 80% of MPS students are from low-income families and may rely on the meals and childcare provided by schools.

MPS is setting up 20 meal pick-up sites around the city where students can get the breakfast and lunch they normally would be fed at school. The sites will be open between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and they’ll have learning materials available for parents to take home.

Childcare is another issue. Alejandra Garza is the mother of a third-grader at Honey Creek Elementary on the south side and a 2-year-old in daycare. Now that they’ll be home for the foreseeable future, Garza says she’ll have to stop work at her part-time job to take care of them. 

“I’m sure I’m not the only one, but we’re going to get to the point where we need assistance with food or paying our bills,” Garza said. “Because I don’t have enough money to just get a two-week vacation and not go to work, otherwise I would have done that already. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to be honest.”

But in the end, Garza says she’s glad that schools are closed.

“The fact that they are thinking about our kids’ safety, that’s good enough for me. Because that’s all that matters to me,” Garza said.

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