As coronavirus cases increase in Wisconsin, the state’s largest school district is proposing a virtual start to the upcoming school year. Milwaukee Public Schools leaders are calling for a phased-in reopening of schools — beginning with virtual instruction for all students, for at least the first 30 days.
Depending on the public health outlook, the district could move into phase 2, which involves students rotating two days a week in classrooms. If coronavirus cases subside, the district’s goal is to bring students back five days a week, with a virtual option for families who want it.
“Our goal is to have students and staff return to school safely for the 2020-21 school year,” said Superintendent Keith Posley in a statement. “We believe a phased-in approach will allow for teaching and learning to continue during this public health situation.”
In a survey of 24,000 MPS parents and students, 53% said they “would consider” an entirely virtual option. Angelica Palacios is one of them.
“Me as a parent, I would like them to give me an option to not have my children to step foot in the school,” Palacios said. She’s worried about her youngest child, who has severe asthma. If any of her three kids go back to school, she fears they could be infected with the coronavirus.
Staff have similar concerns. Milwaukee Teachers Education Association President Amy Mizialko said starting the school year virtually is the right decision.
“There’s sadness to not have the beginning of our classroom community in person,” Mizialko said. “But the virus is in charge.”
MPS officials want to stick with the district’s two-calendar system, meaning some schools would start Aug. 17 and others would start Sept. 1.
The more than 200-page MPS reopening plan goes into detail about the amount of live online instruction various grade levels would receive, and the expectations for students and teachers.
In March, schools across the county were forced to make an unplanned shift to virtual instruction because of the pandemic. Many MPS families experienced a slow and inconsistent rollout of online instruction.
There are major questions about how the district, which serves more than 70,000 mostly low-income students, will pull off virtual instruction in the upcoming year. Among the top concerns are providing all students with technology and internet access, and what to do for working parents who can’t stay home while their children attend online school.
MPS’s fall plans aren’t final until they get school board approval. The board meets Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the details. The public is invited to give testimony or send written comments.
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