Union expresses concerns about MMSD’s return to in-person learning amid COVID-19 case surge

MADISON, Wis. — The union representing teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District on Friday expressed concerns about returning to in-person learning Monday as COVID-19 cases in Dane County continue to climb.

Late last week, the district announced it was pushing back students’ return from winter break this week from Monday to Thursday and moving to virtual learning for two days due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, the same day virtual learning began, district leaders announced students will head back to the classroom in person on Monday as initially announced last week.

“We recognize this week has affected our scholars, families, and staff in many ways,” Superintendent Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins said. “ We appreciate our school community’s patience and understanding. Although we prefer our scholars to be connecting in-person with teachers and staff while learning in our classrooms, this necessary pause strengthened our ability to sustain remaining open safely.”

In a news release, Madison Teachers, Inc. said that while teachers look forward to seeing their students, “we still recognize that we’re in a community which is experiencing a 121% increase in positive cases and 34.5% increase in hospitalizations… and that bringing students, staff, and community into spaces ranging from a couple of hundred to thousands [sic] people is not a safe way to lower our infection rates.”

As of Friday night, the district’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 297 total cases over the past two weeks, including 165 in students and 132 in staff members.

The union said nearly two-thirds of members it surveyed were opposed to returning to in-person learning on Monday “or would only do so if COVID-19 infection rates were stabilizing or decreasing as a sign of spread declining in our community.”

It called on district leaders to put forth plans allowing school staff members to intervene when COVID-19 protocols aren’t being followed, emphasize employees’ mental health and create a public workgroup of teachers, administrators, parents and students to create contingency plans in case of future surges or staffing shortages.

RELATED: MMSD board member calls for reinstatement of COVID-19 leave for staff members

Also included in the union’s list of requests was the restoration of COVID-19 sick leave for employees rather than making them use personal paid time off if they catch the virus or need to quarantine. School Board Clerk Nicki Vander Meulen has similarly pushed for COVID leave to be made available again.

Last month, the district told News 3 Now it had provided COVID-specific leave as required by the federal government but ended the practice in September, noting it offered the leave for a full year after the federal requirement ended.

RELATED: MMSD to return to in-person learning Jan. 10

Ahead of students’ return to the classroom, MMSD is making 15,000 COVID-19 tests available over the weekend. For more information, click here.