Madison Public Schools To Bring Students Back To Classrooms Starting March 9

With Staff Vaccines On The Horizon, MMSD Joins Other Districts In Planning Phased Reopening

Madison school district
Michelle Johnson/WPR

The Madison Metropolitan School District will begin bringing students back into classrooms next month.

Kindergartners will be able to attend school beginning March 9, with grades one and two picking up the following week, and pre-K beginning March 23. The remaining grade levels, as well as extracurricular activities, are expected to return to buildings sometime after that, pending health department recommendations and COVID-19 prevalence.

Families who want to keep their students learning virtually can continue doing so. MMSD said it will send families a request for their preferences next week.

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MMSD students have been learning remotely since March, although some students have been able to work out of the buildings through the Madison School and Community Recreation Cares virtual learning day care program.

Molly Lumley is the parent of a Mendota Elementary second-grader, 7-year-old Sam. She and her partner have both worked from home throughout the pandemic, which she said made it easier to supervise virtual learning.

“If we weren’t home, we don’t know what would happen,” she said. “Luckily he’s a second-grader, too. If he was a little younger, this would be more challenging.”

Lumley said virtual learning has, in some ways, been better for Sam. He struggled with the noise of an in-person classroom, and she said he’s thriving under the autonomy of virtual learning, which consists of 20-minute virtual sessions and then time for independent work.

Over the summer, he was able to spend time outside with a classmate who lived down the street. Now that it’s cold, though, it’s been harder to recreate the social aspect he’s missing without school.

“From a social perspective, in getting him back to the classroom, it would be nice for things to get sort of more back to normal,” Lumley said. “But I also worry about Sam’s anxiety with, you know, you’ve got to keep your mask on, now you need to stay far away from friends, and all these different rules that may be in place, that it still won’t feel normal when they’re back.”

Her partner is leaning toward sending Sam back, while Lumley said she’s more hesitant. She works at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, which she said has made her especially wary of COVID-19. She’d like to see higher rates of teacher and administrator vaccination, as well as more clarity on whether teachers will get enough paid sick leave for possible quarantines, before committing to putting their son in a classroom.

At the same time, many families and students at MMSD have struggled with virtual learning. Some students struggle to focus on an online platform. Many kids’ mental health has suffered without being able to see their classmates or their in-school support systems. Some parents or guardians work outside the home, and can’t supervise their students’ learning. Kids in bilingual learning programs, or who need specialized help for learning disabilities, are falling behind.

Madison schools are just the latest to announce plans for a phased reopening. Many all- or partially virtual school districts have been finalizing dates to begin bringing students back into classrooms in recent weeks, especially since teachers and school staff were confirmed to be in the next group to receive vaccines. The state Department of Health Services said school staff are likely to start getting their shots around March 1, though some districts arranged for earlier shots, and some individual teachers in higher-risk categories were eligible earlier.