South Milwaukee School Board approves hybrid in-person learning following protests by students, parents

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As the holidays wrap up, a number of area school districts are faced with the tough decision of whether to allow kids back into schools or continue with virtual learning.

On Monday, Jan. 11, dozens of parents and students protested in South Milwaukee, asking board members to start in-person classes.

In a 6-1 vote Monday night, the South Milwaukee School Board approved moving forward with a custom hybrid in-person learning plan with elementary school students starting Jan. 18 and high school students starting Jan. 25.

"We just wanna get back in school," said South Milwaukee High School junior Josh Thayer.

Students and parents who attended Monday's protest say virtual learning has been unsuccessful.

Protest organizer Kris Thayer says 1/3 of South Milwaukee students have failing grades. 

"Virtual learning is not working and that they need to get back in person with educators who can actually teach them what they need to, because as parents we're not qualified," Thayer said. 

"I've seen them become more withdrawn, I've seen them have trouble sleep at night, and it's not just my child, it's many of our children," said parent Angie Deford. "They need to be back in the school."

Some students say they are losing connection with teachers and classmates and it's been hard to focus. 

The hybrid in-person plans would entail students going back to full in-person classes sometime in February depending on their grade level.

"I want them to send us back as soon as possible," said senior Nathan Kujawa. "I'd like to have somewhat of a senior year and not spend my senior year in my room."

"Teachers, they're doing their best to help, but it's not where it should be and then just grades are dropping," said Josh Thayer. "It's gonna be harder for college and stuff.

Superintendent Jeff Weiss says the school is ready to keep up with mitigation strategies including masking, air ventilation, contact tracing and physical distancing. He thanked the board for their work.

"It's unprecedented, it's very difficult work and I really respect all the work you have done and all the time you've put in."

Parent protesters say while COVID-19 is concerning, they trust the district's efforts to minimize spread.

"Of course there's concerns, but I know they've put into place a lot of precaution," said Deford. 

"When we did our week of hybrid, most people were perfectly fine," added Kujawa. "They followed the rules, kept their social distancing and wore their masks."

Weiss also praised parents and students for voicing their opinions peacefully.

"I think the rest of the country can learn from South Milwaukee and how to have your voice heard in a very peaceful, democratic way," he said.

The South Milwaukee School Board also discussed possibly resuming in-person meetings once students get back into their classrooms.

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