The Milwaukee Public Schools administration building is shown. (Photo via Milwaukee Public Schools/Facebook)
The Milwaukee Public Schools administration building is shown. (Photo via Milwaukee Public Schools/Facebook)

Roughly 300 special-education students will return Feb. 8, with start dates for pre-K through high school staggered throughout April. 

Milwaukee’s school board on Thursday unanimously approved a plan to bring most of Milwaukee Public Schools’ (MPS) nearly 75,000 students back to classrooms by the end of April.

The MPS plan comes as more research shows in-person schooling can be done safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as long as proper precautions are taken within the schools and surrounding community. Most school districts in Wisconsin have returned for in-person learning, while just a few have remained all-virtual since the pandemic hit. 

Milwaukee’s plan will phase in different grade levels throughout the month of April, but 300 special-education students who need in-person learning will return on Feb. 8 to meet state requirements for individualized education programs (IEPs). Pre-K through second grade will return April 12, third- through eighth-grade students will return April 19, and high schoolers will return April 26.

The district wrote in the plan outline that the school board will review the state of the pandemic in Milwaukee in March to determine whether the return dates need to be changed. It will also make a request to the city government that teachers quickly get vaccines.

Students and staff will be provided with both disposable and cloth masks, and ventilation systems will be running at full power for two hours before and after each school day, according to the district’s plan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, support reopening schools if it is done safely. President Joe Biden has made reopening schools an immediate goal of his presidency; former President Donald Trump and top Republicans also pushed for school reopenings last year, but they did not provide guidance or funding for schools to do so safely.

A district-run survey showed 39% of parents want to continue sending their children virtually, while 29% want in-person learning “when it is safe to return based on public health guidance.” A quarter of parents said they would send their children to in-person classes “as soon as possible.”

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the union representing MPS staff, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. According to Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, the union is circulating a petition opposing in-person learning. It currently has 3,800 signatures.

Earlier this month, Racine’s school district reopened its school buildings with plans to bring students back in March. But the Madison Metropolitan School District is remaining virtual until further notice, a sign of remaining concerns over the potential for schools to serve as hotbeds for COVID-19 if proper virus mitigation techniques aren’t followed.

In Wisconsin, COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and school staff begin March 1, so teachers in Milwaukee and Racine may have the opportunity to get vaccinated before students return. Teachers in Janesville, and some in Milton, have already received their first shots, as health provider Mercyhealth went against local and state guidelines.