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Teachers split on in-person learning

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As some Madison students prepare to return to classrooms next week, teachers in the district are split about the reopening plan.

"Some people are really ready to come back, but lots of people are scared of being back," an MMSD Kindergarten teacher who's opposed to reopening told 27 News. She requested to stay anonymous because she fears backlash from the district and community members who support a return to in-person learning.

"I'm feeling scared for my safety and my family's safety because we have been 100% COVID-free all year because we've been so strict about making really hard choices to stay safe," she said. "I'm feeling really heartbroken now that my employer is forcing me to put my family at risk."

MMSD's slow return to in-person instruction is set to start when kindergarten students return to classrooms on Mar. 9.

The district's plan includes requiring students and staff to wear masks and wash their hands frequently.

But the teacher said she doesn't think her students will be able to consistently follow those rules. Some of the students she's been teaching virtually have been learning from MMSD schools as part of a child care program.

"They're supposed to be following these rules, and they're not," she said. "There are kids who are sharing computers day to day. There are kids who are sitting on teachers laps all day long. Masks are continually below their noses, under their chins, hanging from ears. They're just not being worn."

When MMSD announced its phased reopening plan, the district said the decision to return was made after analyzing public health guidance and noting downward trends in several COVID-19 metrics.

In-person learning succeeds at other schools

While MMSD has remained virtual since March 2020, other schools in the area returned to in-person learning this year.

One of those schools is St. Ambrose Academy, where Angela Hineline works.

"We've had a very healthy school year," she said. "We haven't had to close our doors at all."

Hineline said her school is proof safe, in-person learning is possible with the guidelines set out by Public Health Madison & Dane County.

"When we implemented them within our environment, we had great success" she said. "It's possible."

And she says this is beneficial for the entire school community.

"We see that we have teachers that are thriving, students that are thriving [and] families that are thriving because we're in person," she said.

Different schools, different challenges

The MMSD teacher said it's not fair to make direct comparisons between districts that have made different instructional decisions because each district has different infrastructure and funding challenges.

"Districts surrounding us are in really different positions based on, honestly, the setup of their school," she said. "Our school, we don't have working HVAC. We know that. We don't have hot water in any of our classrooms and that's we've never had hot water."

She said her hope is for MMSD administrators to look at the specific challenges facing the district and work with teachers, staff and families to come up with a plan that works for everyone.

"This is a systemic issue that we can deal with," she said. "And we can deal with it collaboratively instead of pitting people against teachers."

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Caroline Dade

Weekend Evening Anchor/Reporter, 27 News

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