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MMSD officials explain decision to return to in-person in Q&A

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison school officials are clarifying what the return to in-person learning will look like.

The district announced kindergarteners will have the option to be in-person starting March 9. Grades 1-2 will come back March 16, and 4K students will return March 23. Parents still have the option to continue virtually.

Thursday, school officials opened up a Q&A session over Facebook Live to directly address parents' concerns.

Madison administrators and experts sat for an hour to answer questions.

"Will students have access to testing at the schools?" was one question submitted and read by school board president Gloria Reyes.

Executive Director of Students & Staff Jay Affeldt had an answer.

"We now have that in place in all of our schools, so we're able to do symptomatic testing for any in-person students or staff who develop or show symptoms while at school," he said.

The big question -- why bring back kids now?

"We have been virtual since September," Reyes read from another question. "Why not continue until all teachers are vaccinated? If we are getting the vaccines in March, it's not too much longer. What's the rush?"

27 News has spoken to teachers in the last few months concerned about a return to in-person. Unlike families, they won't get a choice -- as soon as any students are in-person, teachers will have to be, too.

Experts on Thursday's MMSD panel said the data now is going in the right direction. With testing and protocols, they say the risk to students' well-being if they were to continue virtually outweighs the risk of catching COVID-19 in-person.

"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.

Experts cited studies from other states which they say show strong adherence to safety protocols can make reopening safe.

"When we UW folks saw that the data from elsewhere suggested we could do that, even recognizing the greater risk, that really weighed a lot in terms of our recommendation," said Thomas Friedrich, a professor of pathobiological sciences at UW-Madison.

Right now, the district is still deciding what a return to in-person class for older students will look like. Administrators said they're hopeful for an in-person graduation ceremony, even if it ends up being multiple ceremonies over multiple days.

You can watch the full Facebook Live Q&A here:

MMSD Reopening Schools

Join this Community Conversation with Dr. Jenkins, MMSD Superintendent. This series focuses on various topics, including reopening MMSD buildings, and features school board members, central office leaders, health experts and district staff. If you need interpretation, click here: https://madison-k12-wi-us.zoom.us/j/96840779700

Posted by Madison Schools - MMSD on Thursday, February 11, 2021

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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