Madison Metropolitan School District beginning phased return to in-person learning

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Metropolitan School District announced Wednesday morning it will begin a phased return to in-person learning.

Kindergarten students will return first, starting Tuesday, March 9, while other grade levels will transition back to in-person learning on a weekly basis. Grades 1-2 will start March 16; and 4K on March 23.

According to a news release, virtual learning will remain an option for all students who wish to continue learning from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Parents who choose to remain virtual will have the option to change their minds in three week increments. MMSD said it will allow room for parents to make changes but must report to the district within a certain amount of time to ensure a safe return.

“When our first student walks through our doors, it will be almost a year since we closed in March 2020,” said Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins in a statement.  “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.”

Carlton said that Madison Teacher’s Inc. was consulted in its decision to return to a phased in-person learning model and was not concerned about opposition.

MMSD’S School Board President Gloria Reyes said, “There is no plan that will satisfy everyone,” but district officials are confident that their plan prioritizes safety and social and emotional wellbeing.

When asked if the new, more contagious strains of COVID-19 worried school administrators about their decision to return to in-person learning, MMSD’s medical advisor Dr Ellen Ward said, “We feel that all the precautions that we’ve set in place are sufficient regardless of which strain is circulating.”

District leaders said they’ve been following public health and CDC guidelines and working with other school districts who have already returned to in person learning to take what’s been working for them and applying it here.

“Everything from what safety mitigations they had in place as far as how students were walking down the hall to how they were intentionally focused on social and emotional well being,” said Chief of Elementary Schools Carletta Stanford.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 gets reported to the district’s health services team. A lead nurse starts contact tracing and makes a decision on who should quarantine.

The school will also keep track of which teachers get their vaccines when they’re allowed to do so. MMSD believes that most, if not all staff are expected to return for in-person learning. A district member said that when the state allows teachers to get vaccinated, they will prioritize staff members who have been working in person.

MMSD said it will continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics and receive guidance from local public health experts. Other grade levels and co-curriculars will also return to in-person at a later date.

The district said it will provide families an opportunity to indicate their intentions on whether their students will return to in-person instruction next week. Information from the survey will also be used for the district to better plan and prepare for reopening of schools.

MSCR will continue to provide afterschool childcare in many elementary schools but do not have 100% commitment from all schools yet. MSCR Cares students will be moved out of elementary schools into middle schools that do not have conjoining elementary schools to help space students out. Additionally, 3-5 graders will be placed at MSCR Cares sites in middle schools as well as the Allied Learning Center beginning March 8.

District officials added that school board meetings will also resume in person.