Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) announced earlier today that students will return to an all-virtual learning environment for the third quarter, which superintendent Carlton Jenkins called a difficult decision in a media briefing this afternoon.
“We continue to have safety as a priority for our staff and students but be responsible to our community,” he said.
Jenkins said the district supports in-person learning for students, but the district would not bring students back unless public health data justified students returning. He said the district would continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alongside local and state public health professionals. He did not, however, say what specific metrics need to be met for schools to open.
“I cannot emphasize enough that if those metrics change we are looking into opening schools,” Jenkins said.
There are no standalone metrics, according to Andrew Statz, MMSD’s Executive Director of Research, Accountability & Data Use. Jenkins said the district would make decisions to give students as much stability as possible.
“We would try to give time, a minimum of three weeks, for individuals to adjust,” Jenkins said.
The district decision for returning to an all-virtual learning environment after break was based on current health and safety conditions, Jenkins saida. However, Jenkins said there is a possibility that students could return to their buildings before the end of the academic year.
“We keep daily records of what those numbers are and how those numbers are changing. We meet once a week and look at those numbers closely,” MMSD Assistant Director of Health Services Sally Zirbel-Donisch,said.
Jenkins explained the decision to remain in an all-virtual model for the start of the third quarter was a collaborative effort and centered around: monitoring and reviewing local public health metrics; in-depth consultation with scientists, health experts, focus groups, and internal as well as external advisory teams. The district also considered feedback from district families and staff on students’ return.
“A lot of times they’re in multigenerational homes. Their parents are essential workers so we have to take all these things into account,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the district hopes to receive more federal support after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. However, he also expressed concerns about a spike in COVID-19 cases after the holiday break.
The district’s plan includes a phased approach for returning to in-person learning. This plan would bring grade levels back in two week increments beginning with younger students, with the hopes of bringing back all students when the conditions permit.
Jenkins also said the district would continue to support the social and emotional needs of students as well. He encouraged families to reach out to the district if they are in need of additional support.
“We are going to try to move back to the schools and do it in a robust way,” he said.
MMSD will hold a Facebook Livestream on Jan. 14 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. A health expert advisory panel will share their insights and answer questions.