The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) announced plans Thursday to resume in-person learning for students grades 3-12 starting April 13, causing concerns among some local educators.
Third grade students are scheduled to return to the classroom starting April 13, and fourth and fifth grade students will return on April 20. Both groups will receive four full days of in-person instruction per-week, according to MMSD.
Sixth grade students, high school freshmen and seniors will also return to the classroom on April 20 for two full days in-person and two full days of virtual instruction. Seventh and eighth grade students as well as high school sophomores and juniors are also scheduled to return for two days a week beginning April 27.
The scheduled return follows previous efforts to return students between kindergarten and the third grade to in-person instruction, which began on March 9.
“Our decision today is the result of the advice from public health experts, indicating the conditions are favorable for us to continue to move forward with our phased approach,” Superintendent Carl Jenkins said in a Q&A session Thursday night.
Families have also been given the option to choose between having their child attend virtual or in-person classes via an online questionnaire sent last week. However, MMSD staff are required to teach in-person, according to The Cap Times.
Some Madison educators expressed concerns about reopening due to the fact that teachers will not be prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines until March 19, which may cause some MMSD employees to return to the classroom before they can be vaccinated.
The Madison teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), issued a statement expressing their concerns regarding the Dane County Public Health system's decision to delay prioritizing MMSD employees for vaccination.
“We are disappointed by the recent Dane County Public Health announcement that the county will not start offering teachers and childcare workers the COVID-19 vaccine for at least two weeks due to a lack of adequate vaccine supply,” MTI said in a public statement. “Tragically, the effect of this decision delays access for many Black and Brown workers – many who are already working in person. Leaving workers unvaccinated poses a risk to the workers, their families, and the community.”
Other school districts in the surrounding Dane County area, including Waunakee and Sun Prairie, have not experienced the same difficulty vaccinating teachers, with a majority of educators in these districts having received a vaccination within the past two weeks, according to WKOW.
Several educators have individually voiced their frustration with MMSD’s failure to supply teachers with vaccines prior to the return to in-person classes.
“MMSD should have secured enough vaccines for their employees,” one anonymous MMSD teacher stated in an interview with The Daily Cardinal. “With MMSD being the second largest school district in the state, they should have been able to find some way to get vaccines for all of their teachers.”
Some teachers have been able to receive the vaccine on their own accord, however, there remain additional health concerns, according to Van Hise Elementary School teacher Sharon Jimenez.
“After being vaccinated for now, I feel pretty safe, as long as we’re following the protocol. And there’s the catch — we have to be following the most safe protocol,” Jimenez said. “Otherwise, I worry for the kids because you’re finding out more and more that there could be long term effects for the kids who do get it, even though they’re less likely to get it, but then they’re also spreaders.”
Jimenez expressed her hope that in-person instruction will be able to safely resume in-person instruction so students can have a more constructive learning environment.
“Teachers are working hard, and we just want what is best for our students, and what’s best for one another,” Jimenez said. “Eventually we’re going to get back to normal.”