'Could last into graduation and beyond:' As schools close for rest of year, options being evaluated

MILWAUKEE -- With governors in states like Kansas ordering schools closed for the remainder of the school year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, officials with Milwaukee Public Schools Wednesday, April 1 noted plans to meet to develop a long-term plan to ensure students don't fall behind.

Gov. Tony Evers directed Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm on March 13 to issue an agency order mandating the statewide closure of all K-12 schools, public and private, amid the pandemic, with the mandated closure going into effect on March 18. When the order was issued, officials announced an anticipated reopening date of April 6 (subject to change), and as of Wednesday, questions remained about the future of K-12 education in Wisconsin.

"Our mission is about ensuring that every scholar in Milwaukee has the opportunity to attend a high-quality school," said Stephanie Maney, senior director of talent, strategy and leadership at City Forward Collective, not affiliated with MPS.

Maney noted growing concerns regarding distance learning, including limited access to technology and the internet among minority children.

"I think we, particularly, have to be paying attention to this in the city of Milwaukee, where we serve a majority of black and brown students, whom, when we look at our data from the state, are already having an opportunity gap, and we need to ensure that we don't create a system for that opportunity gap to grow," said Maney.

MPS meal distribution

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said many of the decisions on how to educate students moving forward were being left to the districts.

"I think all schools and networks have to be charged with coming together, with coming up with a long-term plan," said Maney.

After schools were closed, MPS officials began passing out educational packets to students with daily lunches, but Maney noted technology and internet access as essential for equal opportunity education.

"As I look around the city, these are being carried out currently inequitably," said Maney.

MPS officials issued this statement Wednesday:

“Milwaukee Public Schools continues to evaluate how to best educate and serve our students throughout this pandemic. The district does that while recognizing it could last into graduation and beyond. MPS remains committed to ensuring the health and safety our students and staff."

"The district is following the state order to stay safe at home during this public health pandemic.  We recognize the challenge and hardship this extended closure may have caused our school community. We will continue to follow safe and healthy guidelines to operate our 20 Stop, Grab and Go locations to distribute healthy meals and instructional materials.  In addition, as the school closure has been extended, we are preparing additional online learning opportunities to support our MPS students."