MILWAUKEE — In a meeting that lasted more than seven hours, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors voted in favor of students returning to in-person instruction.
All employees will return to school April 12. The district will exercise flexibility for employees who can't show proper paperwork for their safe return.
Kindergarten through grade 3 will begin in-person learning on April 14.
Grades 4 - 8 will return April 19.
Seniors and students in danger of failing will be offered in-person learning beginning April 26.
Freshman, sophomores, and juniors will remain virtual.
Other items included in the motion were testing of air quality, establishing a hotline for violations, and maintaining a quota of 15 students per classroom with an option for up to 18 if the classroom is large enough to maintain a six foot distance between students.
Public comment ended just before 10:00 p.m. The Board then took up debate where they voted in favor of reconvening March 30 so they had time to view the results of parent surveys as well as submit questions about the Roadmap to Readiness plan to the Board of Governance.
The Board later rescinded that motion because it did not include a decision as to whether students would return to in-person learning.
The motion that passed early Wednesday morning included an amendment for the Board to still submit their top ten questions to the Board of Governance by March 25 with an expected response from the administration by March 30.
"We also recognize we will not make everyone happy, but we want to give families and students a choice whether they want to have in-person instruction or whether they want to remain virtual, so that will continue to be a choice for our families," said Keith Posley, MPS Superintendent.
The Board said 90 people signed up to speak. They heard from a number of parents and teachers, many echoing the teachers union's concerns that the plan is not complete and the return is too soon.
Many voiced opposition to returning to classrooms in April.
"There is ample pressure to reopen, but the real pressure this Board has on it tonight is to safely reopen during a pandemic that is not over!" said Ben Ward with the MTEA teachers union.
"I as a parent will not be sending my child back to school. Because you have not proven to me that it is safe or disrupting his routine," said parent Sarah Gruettner.
"There are children in multiple generation homes right now and can you imagine how they would feel if they brought this home," said parent Margarita Ramirez.
Others were for the plan.
"I cannot stress enough how hard it is for students to learn. Try taking IB chemistry through a screen," said another speaker.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he wanted the Board to approve the administration's recommended plan. He and Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said 5,000 MPS staff have been vaccinated, and 1,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been set aside for staff who have not been vaccinated.
The Roadmap to Readiness plan
The plan outlines numerous safety protocols to limit the spread of the coronavirus: specific entry and exiting of school buses and pickups; protocols for limited sharing of supplies; principals acting as "COVID coordinators" reporting cases and supporting isolation rooms; and school district nurses assigned to each school to continue supporting contract tracing.
The plan also outlines criteria for closing a classroom due to an outbreak. One linked COVID-19 case in a classroom would result in that class transitioning to virtual learning for two weeks. The proposal also proposes surveillance testing and a "Safety Labor Management Committtee."
Social distancing would be enforced "to the greatest extent possible" in all areas of the school. That includes cafeterias, gyms, libraries and recesses.
Capacity in school buses will also be limited, with assigned seating, required masks and other safety precautions, according to the plan.
Breakfast will be served in the 'grab and go' style, and lunch will be served daily in cafeterias for students attending in-person classes. Students attending virtual classes will be able to pre-order meals for pickup.
Under the plan, MPS says it is following CDC guidance for better ventilation, and it is adding Portable HEPA filtration units to all classrooms.
Families in the school district will be surveyed on their thoughts starting March 25.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended schools fully return to in-person teaching, as long as the community has less than an 8 percent positivity rate.
The City of Milwaukee's COVID-19 dashboard reports a percent positivity of 3.2 percent.
Students with disabilities began returning to in-person learning in early February, impacting about 300 students.
The plan that allowed for those students to return to class also outlined a proposal for all students to return to in-person learning by mid April.
A survey of MPS parents earlier this year showed out of nearly 24,000 responses, 39 percent reported they would prefer to continue with virtual learning, 29 percent said they would return their children if public health guidance said it was safe, while the remainder said they would either return their students as soon as possible or when a vaccine is available.
The full plan is embedded below: