MILWAUKEE — It's no secret that virtual learning has been a challenge for many kids in our community over the past year. That includes high school students.
Data from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) shows 30% of high school students failed at least one class during the fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year. That's up from around 19% during the fall semester of the 2019-2020 school year.
On April 26, the district is allowing those students in danger of failing to come back and get some extra help from teachers. High school seniors are invited back for their final weeks as MPS students, too.
But, not everyone thinks the plan is safe and fair. To gain a full perspective we are going 360. We are talking to a high school junior and a high school sophomore who are both in danger of failing. They're both excited at the chance to return to in-person learning.
We will also talk to a high school senior, who has the choice to go back but is choosing not to because she's not comfortable. She doesn't feel 100% safe and she's upset that younger students don't have the choice to return.
The teacher's union also weighs in. Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) has been a group that is hesitant about the return to school as COVID-19 variant cases rise in our area.
But, we begin with an MPS board member concerned about how the current plan will impact families.
"I have two high school students. They didn’t do so well as virtual as well. But, we have to understand as adults - we were in a pandemic - and our students are in one too ... and we have to make sure they are mentally OK with everything that is going on," said Sequanna Taylor. She's an MPS board member who has voted "NO" to a return to in-person learning from the start. While she doesn't agree with students going back right now, she's cautiously optimistic about the next school year.
"I understand we have a month left in school and I’m looking forward to what August looks like. Hopefully, we have everything in place," she said.
The president of MTEA is focused on getting through the next several weeks. As some high schoolers head back to class on April 26 and as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
"The B.1.1.7 variant changes everything, we have warned about this for months. It is now the prevalent variant," said Amy Mizialko, MTEA President.
As of April 20, the most recent data from the CDC showed there were near 21,000 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S. On that same day in Wisconsin, we were nearly 300 cases of that variant, making it the most prevalent variant in the state, according to the Department of Health Services.
TMJ4's Ryan Jenkins asked Mizialko for her opinion on students going back to school even as variants impact younger demographics.
"It was irresponsible to rush students and educators back into buildings without a plan before we were back at 5% positivity, and now that we are there again with the variant showing up in very real ways it's even more concerning," said Mizialko.
But, there are students who are viewing the situation from a completely different perspective. Students like sophomore Soleli Harvey.
"Before virtual, I was top of my classes and everything. It was crazy," said Harvey, who is returning to school for in-person learning.
Junior Anthony Stephens said he is failing and virtual learning is to blame.
"It has been a constant struggle mentally and emotionally and just very tiresome," he said.
Still, the ability to go back and receive hands-on help from teachers comes with a risk. Some are nervous to go back to school without being vaccinated.
"That's my number one fear is the ability to socially distance. Also, COVID cases rising. We have a vaccine, I feel like now is a time to get everyone vaccinated," said Stephens.
Most MPS high school students won't get to go back.
All of the students that TMJ4 News talked to say the current reopening plan is unfair because they believe high school students should have a choice between in-person and virtual learning.
After all, that choice is what everyone else in the district got, including seniors. Some say they'd rather just tough it out for three more weeks and stay virtual, though.
"It's going to be very separate and isolated and I think it's going to make it a little worse because you're like oh wow I remember how close we were, and do all these events together and just be close and do activities in class and have after school programming and we can't do that," said Anya Ramos, a senior who is not going back to in-person learning.
She says even though she is vaccinated and could go back to school, she knows others won't be. She also said she would feel bad returning to class while others have to stay at home.
"I would just feel so guilty going in while i know my other younger peers are struggling for the next couple of weeks," said Ramos.
In addition to potential learning loss, data from the CDC suggests that virtual learning could also present mental, emotional and physical health risks for both children and parents.
We are told that nearly 60% of MPS students, who were given a choice, opted to return for in-person learning over the past few weeks. That means nearly 1 in 4 students could be choosing to stay virtual for now.