MILWAUKEE — A day after Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) went back and forth on its mask mandate, the district’s superintendent says rising cases in the district and the community are to blame for the sudden switch.
Dr. Keith Posley says the school board made a decision about a month ago that masks would be optional inside school buildings starting this week, but due to an uptick in cases among MPS staff, along with the city of Milwaukee’s cases considered to be in the substantial transmission category, the district decided it’s best to keep masks in place, at least for now.
Erika Alvero says her 8-year-old son Draven was ecstatic to go to class at Milwaukee’s Spanish Immersion School Tuesday without having to wear a mask, but a late night pivot means masks are once again required.
“To just pull that away from them after only one day, I think is just cruel,” Alvero said.
Alvero says she was so frustrated with the district’s reversal that she pulled her son out of school.
“I’ve decided enough is enough and I’ve decided that until they reverse that mask mandate back again, my child will be home-schooled,” she said.
“I’ll be the first to say, I understand frustration that parents and staff face,” Dr. Posley said.
Dr. Posley says he consulted with the Milwaukee Health Department, the teachers’ union and administrators after Tuesday’s Covid data showed cases were rising among district staff, resulting in a need to require masks district-wide.
“Basically it’s up 47 percent on the positivity rate for our staff, so that is one of the indicators we took a close look at and making sure that we are able to meet the needs of our students in the classroom, making sure have staff and students present each day,” he said.
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Dr. Posley says the district is using several criteria to determine when it’s safe to make masks optional again, including cases and positivity rates in the city and the school district. He says it’s up in the air at this point when masks will no longer be required.
Angela Harris is an MPS elementary school teacher, an MPS parent and the chairwoman of Milwaukee’s Black Educators Caucus.
“I expected it if I’m being honest,” Harris said.
Harris says she supports the district’s decision to go back to the mandate. She wants it to remain in place through the end of the school year.
“This way, we know that we’re safe, we’re keeping our scholars safe and we will be likely to remain in school in person for the remainder of the school year and I think that that’s the most important part,” she said.
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Milwaukee County’s Chief Health Policy Advisor Dr. Ben Weston says he agrees with the Milwaukee Health Department that masks should remain in place at MPS given that cases are climbing with the new sub-variant.
“Unfortunately, we’re starting to see an upward trend and a relatively steep upward trend,” Dr. Weston said. “We’ve had a doubling of our positivity rate over the last three weeks, we’ve had a tripling of our case numbers over the past three weeks.”
TMJ4 News asked the district why the decision to keep masks wasn’t made before Tuesday. Dr. Posley says it’s because the district gets new Covid data every Tuesday and Thursday. That means new data will be reviewed again tomorrow, but Dr. Posley couldn’t provide a clear answer at to when he expects masks will be optional again at MPS.