Starting in March, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) will be allowing some students back in schools. On February 10th, the district announced its plan to let some of its youngest students begin attending school in person, while letting families choose whether to keep their children at home to continue virtual learning.
Kindergarten age students will begin to phase back in starting March 9th. One week later, first and second graders will follow, and one week after that, so will those in 4-year old kindergarten. Plans for students in the third grade and onward to return to school are still being considered.
In a press conference last month, MMSD Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins announced that the district would begin the new quarter virtually, while emphasizing that if they had the opportunity to do it safely, MMSD would try to return to in-person learning.
“I want to stress that even though we will begin the third quarter virtual, if at any time the conditions for us to bring our students and staff back safely improve, we will execute our current plan to safely return students in person, and have our staff come back in a phased approach that we’ve been working on diligently with many people,” Jenkins said.
While COVID-19 continues to take lives each day, the spread may be slowing. On Monday, Dane County Public Health officials further loosened emergency restrictions. This week, Wisconsin’s seven-day average of positive COVID-19 cases dipped below 1,000 cases a day for the first time in five months.
MMSD’s decision comes nearly a year after schools closed their doors last March in response to the surging coronavirus pandemic.
With the new plan, classes taught to in-person students will also be taught synchronously to virtual students — that is, classes will happen for all students at the same time.
In a video emailed to the families of children at Franklin Elementary School last Friday, Principal Sylla Zarov explained how students will stay in smaller class groups to minimize contact outside of their class bubble.
“Once kids are in our school face-to-face, the cohort of kids in the class will stay together throughout the day without much movement other than scheduled bathroom and recess breaks,” Zarov said.
Teacher attitudes appear split on the issue of returning. A survey conducted in early January by MMSD showed roughly 65% of teachers saying they would be able, though not necessarily willing, to return.
An alternate survey performed around the same time by Madison Teachers Inc, the district’s teachers union, reported that 94% of responding teachers supported a fully virtual third quarter.
With Wisconsin’s vaccination plan, teachers and educators will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 1st.
Ali Muldrow, Vice President of the MMSD Board of Education and parent of two children in the district told WORT that coordinating teacher vaccination was among the many planned strategies that played into the district’s decision to return to in-person schooling.
“I think that access to the vaccine is a factor, but is not the only factor indicating how we’re going to navigate a safe return: social distancing practices, making sure young people are masked and educators are masked, and also really being available to changing course if we recognize that we cannot ensure safety to the level we need to be able to,” Muldrow said.
Parents of MMSD school children have been asked to inform the district whether they plan to have their children return to school sometime in the coming week.
Editor’s Note: MTI released a statement on MMSD’s planned reopening two hours after this story initially aired. The statement, in its entirety, reads:
“1. Contrary to the District’s assertion, MTI leadership was NOT involved or consulted in the March 9 timeline to reopen all MMSD schools for all students and staff in person.
2. MTI members are greatly concerned about the plan and returning to work before vaccinations are made available to all community members who need them, including staff who are being asked to return to work in-person. Teachers and education staff have been able to provide remote learning opportunities and have worked hard all year to make this a safe, viable option.
3. MTI is placing top priority on the preservation of life, health and safety of every single member of the MMSD community. Too many questions about the ability to safely reopen school exist with the District’s plan.
4. MTI Leadership from all bargaining units are actively developing a plan to ensure the District addresses its employees’ concerns about returning to work in-person safely. There are many questions about the efficacy of the District’s plan to reopen and we encourage members to continue to raise questions and concerns within each building about gaps in the MMSD plan.”