The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) announced its decision to return young students to in-person classes starting March 9.
The reopening — an approach which has caused some concern among Madison school teachers — will see kindergarten age students return to classes taught in person by teachers. Students will also have virtual learning opportunities available if they feel uncomfortable in an in-person setting.
Staff teaching other grades, including the elementary, middle and high school levels, will also be expected to return to their respective buildings where they will issue virtual instruction, according to an email MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds sent to the CapTimes.
MMSD chief of human resources Deirdre Hangrove-Kriegoff emphasized the expectation that MMSD teachers return to teaching in person, in a press conference this past Wednesday.
“It is our expectation that our staff are returning,” Hargrove-Krieghoff said. “If there are folks that have specific issues that would prevent them from returning, they will have the opportunity to connect with human resources and have the support that they need to work through those processes.”
In a Q&A with MMSD, officials explained that the decision to partially resume in-person classes has been made to improve the mental health of students who have been learning virtually for almost a year.
"We're balancing what we think is now a lower risk of illness for the children and the teachers, and increasing concern about mental health," said Dr. Ellen Wald, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UW Health.
In the wake of MMSD’s announcement, local teachers unions, Madison Teachers Inc (MTI) and several individual teachers have announced their opposition to the plan, which does not provide teachers with COVID-19 vaccinations.
In an interview with Channel 27, a Georgia O’Keeffe Middle School art teacher, Katie Walsh, voiced her concern that MMSD’s current plan to return to in-person learning will negatively impact the mental well being of teachers.
"Before the pandemic, teachers have been giving their lives already for teaching," Walsh stated. "A lot of us have had a lot of anxiety, depression, mental health issues from teaching. To ask to give more at this point — our physical lives and physical well-being — is too much."
Walsh is not the only teacher concerned about returning to in-person instruction before all teachers are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
A survey conducted by (MTI) in late December 2020 polled members about their feelings on returning to in-person learning in early March by asking, “Given the MMSD metrics and the current rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Dane County, do you support a face-to-face classroom instruction for 3rd quarter?”
Out of over 1,000 responses from Madison teachers part of the MTI, 94.23% reported they do not support a face-to-face classroom instruction for the third quarter.
“Every single staff member I know does not feel it is safe to go back,” East High School teacher Amanda Pustz told the Cap Times. “We do not understand the push when vaccines for school staff are supposed to begin March 1.”
Despite MMSD teachers’ concerns, superintendent Carlton Jenkins believes that MMSD has taken the correct measures to ensure a smooth phase-in.
"When our first student walks through our doors on March (9)th, it will be almost a year since we closed in March 2020," Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said in a statement to Madison.com. "As a school community, we have come a long way, and remain committed to providing the safest learning spaces possible by continuing to adhere to our safety protocols; and implementing multiple layers of prevention and mitigation measures specifically developed to keep students and staff safe."