MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Public Schools rolled out the red carpet as some students went back to their classrooms for the first time since last spring.
On Wednesday, students in K3-3rd grade launched the district's phased return to in-person learning for the families who want it.
One mom at Samuel Clemens School had mixed emotions as she dropped off her son.
"It's exciting, but it's also nerve-racking because I don't want him sick on the first day or something like that," said Iyonna Jones.
At Riverwest Elementary, parents and kids seemed optimistic after the first day back.
"So far I feel like it's going to be good. It's going to be okay," said Darius Cotton.
"Really good. It felt like everything was really under control. They were organized about how they were going to keep the kids apart," said Noel Ash. "They were very excited. They wanted to make friends and so it was something we've been looking forward to for a long time."
MPS reported 59 percent of families wanted an in-person learning option. Students who went back found classrooms that now feature plexiglass barriers, air purifiers, and personal protective equipment. During a press conference, Superintendent Keith Posley said windows will be open and exhaust fans will run to allow fresh air in, and students will get breaks outside to take off their masks. There will also be efforts to help students adjust to the transition.
"We're going to do a number of things on social and emotional learning because we know a number of our children have not been around their classmates and things of this nature over a period of time. So working on that, and we're going to have a session daily on health and safety," Posley said.
Posley explained if there is a positive COVID-19 case in one classroom, the class will move to remote learning for 14 days. If there are three in the school, the whole school will shift to that same model.
The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association remained concerned. In a statement, the union said since Monday it received nearly 150 reports of health and safety concerns from members and the number is growing. The union said it was keeping lines of communication open with the administration and school board.
The teacher's union says it is not aware of any widespread sick calls among staff. However, they are concerned about how more than 200 elementary vacancies will be addressed when more students return next week.
Read the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association's full statement here:
Health and Safety Protocols
“In order to address potentially dangerous problems as they arise, MTEA is working constantly to provide our members an opportunity to notify the MPS School Board and Administration about health and safety issues in MPS buildings. “Since staff began returning on Monday, we have received nearly 150 reports of health and safety concerns from members, and more reports continue to come in. We are notifying Administration of these issues, both large and small, we are keeping lines of communication open with Administration and School Board members, and offering solutions on how to improve and properly implement health and safety protocols.
“While these serious concerns should have been resolved before students arrived, there is no longer any option but to fix the many remaining problems. Our students, our members and all MPS families’ health and safety depend on us getting it right. MTEA will be a watchdog for health and safety concerns for MPS staff, students and their families. “As Michigan is showing us right now, there is no room for error in terms of safety protocols because of the rapid spread of Covid-19 variants that are more contagious among children.”
“MTEA is not aware of any widespread sick calls among staff. We have asked Administration if they are aware of anything.
“We are aware that there were at least 227 elementary vacancies that needed to be filled and we don’t know at this point if or how Administration has addressed this. We have received reports of MTEA teacher members who work out of MPS Central Office being contacted late last night with new classroom assignments for this morning. We await information from Administration about whether all vacancies have been covered.“Further, we are very concerned about how vacancies will be addressed next week when five grade levels are added to the equation. 227 is just for the next few days, that number will likely rise proportionately with the next round of reopening on Monday, April 19th.”