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For the first time since March, some MPS students may return to in-person education. (File photo by Adam Carr)

Milwaukee Public Schools wants to bring students back in person, starting with students with disabilities returning on Feb. 8.

The rest of the student body would remain in virtual learning – at least for now. Under rules approved Tuesday by an MPS committee, in-person instruction would take place in the following phases:

• April 12: Pre-K through second grade
• April 19: Third through eighth grade
• April 26: Ninth through 12th grade

MPS administrators will come back to the school board in March to discuss whether these return dates are still feasible, based on the positivity rate of the COVID virus, the percentage of staff who have been vaccinated and the physical and staffing capacity of schools to reopen under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

They may also be challenged by the district’s teachers’ union, which is circulating a petition to remain in virtual instruction “until it is safe to return.”

The plan was adopted by a committee of the Board of School Directors on Tuesday and goes before the full board Thursday.

MPS Superintendent Keith Posley said during Tuesday’s meeting that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, or DPI, directed MPS to return students with disabilities by Feb. 8. But emails supplied by DPI appear to show the department expects MPS to provide in-person learning for students with disabilities by Feb. 4.

“If MPS fails to provide in-person services as required for students with IEPs by the deadline of February 4, 2021, the department will move forward with withholding reimbursement of state special education categorical aids,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor wrote to Posley on Jan. 7. An IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, is a legally binding document detailing what education experience is best suited for a student that requires special education.

A DPI spokesman said the department is aware of MPS’ plan but did not say which date will be the deadline for MPS to resume in-person instruction.

“We understand MPS is looking at Feb. 8. We will discuss that and work with the district once final decisions by the board have been made,” Chris Bucher, a DPI spokesman, said.

The students with disabilities and the staff returning will be located in three schools.

In other news, Posley said during Tuesday’s meeting that he received guidance from the state that all staff will be part of the “1B” vaccination group. This means that teachers and school staff will be eligible to receive the vaccine by March 1.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the union representing many MPS teachers, has gathered over 3,800 signatures in support of remaining in all-virtual instruction. The union cites the “dangerously high” levels of community spread and lack of widespread vaccine access, saying students younger than 16 are not eligible for the vaccine.

Union president Amy Mizialko expressed her support for staying virtual in a statement after the meeting.

“The school board’s decision to remain virtual shows the voices of parents, students, workers and our community are being heard,” Mizialko said. “The final motion is not perfect, but is an important step toward keeping students, staff and their families safe until this public health crisis is over.”