MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Public Schools students returned to in-person learning on Tuesday after taking their classes virtually for two weeks due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Early this January the Milwaukee School Board voted to keep the public school district virtual until Jan. 18. Students were originally scheduled to return to in-person learning on Jan. 10, but the board decided to extend virtual learning by another week.
The motion they approved also included the need to continue and improve COVID-19 mitigation strategies, like cleaning, adequate supplies, vaccine clinics, staffing or other support, as well as direct the Office of the Board of Governance to make a formal request to Acting-Mayor Cavalier Johnson, the Milwaukee Common Council and Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson to reinstate the citywide mask mandate.
There is a mix of emotions among families.
"I'm really excited first thing seeing my friends and seeing the teachers," said 6th grader Keira Wageman.
Wageman said her backpack and lunch will be ready the night before heading back to in-person classes at Milwaukee School of Languages. The 6th grader explained seeing her teachers in person helps her learn best.
"Seeing the teacher on a little screen is really difficult sometimes," Wageman said.
Wageman's mom Elysse Chay admitted she feels conflicted. While she believes social interaction is important for her daughter, Chay is also nervous about the omicron variant. At the same time, in-person learning for her kids helps her focus on her work-from-home job.
"It's more helpful for me too as an employee, to be able to get more done when my kids are in school. But then it's hard to weigh that, you know, putting my employee hat on versus my mom hat on," Chay said.
In response to a request, a district spokesperson said MPS is ready for in-person learning. The district secured nearly two million KN95 masks and planned to continue holding vaccine clinics at some schools through February.
According to MPS data, 5,246 students and staff have tested positive for COVID since July 2021, or about 6%of the entire district.
Like many parents, Chay has been doing her best to navigate the many layers of how to handle different COVID scenarios even in her own home. It is a constant challenge with no obvious end in sight. Chay said the school principal ramping up communication has helped.
"I really do feel better, at least knowing where we're at on a regular basis," Chay said.
The district's most recent weekly COVID report covering last week (Jan.10-14), shows 198 staff and 264 students tested positive for COVID. That is a drop from the report two weeks ago when 741 staff and 350 students tested positive. We should note those numbers include people who were not physically in the buildings.
To support students and families through the virtual learning extension, meals were still offered at 50 Stop, Grab and Go locations across the city from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. While before and after school programs were closed, academic and athletic competitions went ahead.