East High teachers plan outdoor virtual classes to urge safer return to classrooms

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 9:47 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 10:25 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A group of teachers from Madison’s East High School plan to urge a safer return to the classroom by holding their classes outside Thursday morning.

In a statement released two days before the demonstration, the teachers and staff explained they will set up folding tables, chairs, and computers outside the school and conduct their online classes from the school lawn from 8 a.m. until noon.

“We are holding our virtual lessons in an alternative space so that we can be visibly present in support of everybody who’s required to go back right now,” said Carla Oppenheimer, a 10th grade English teacher. On Thursday, she explained, her colleagues across the district’s elementary schools will begin working in person. So far, about two dozen teachers who are members of the union Madison Teachers Inc. have signed up for the “teach out.”

“Students deserve a safe place to learn, and teachers deserve a safe place to work,” she said.

As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the forecast called for temperatures to remain in the 30′s for the entire time.

Currently, Madison Metropolitan School District remains on virtual instruction for nearly all students, with kindergartners slated to return to class on Tuesday. First and second graders as well as 4K students will head back to school over the subsequent two weeks.

High school students are not currently on MMSD’s timeline.

The participating teachers argue the return plan is not safe and the district’s plan “leaves too many critical safety questions unanswered.” Oppenheimer named specific concerns such as air filtration and classrooms without windows.

MMSD did not respond to NBC15′s request for comment on Tuesday. But in regards to the example of air quality, the district’s Health and Safety Guidance page says the board approved a proposal for nearly $300,000 in medical-grade filters and that “every 10 minutes, the entire volume of each classroom’s air is circulated and filtered.”

Andrea Land, a parent of two MMSD students, said she trusts the district, despite some of the teachers’ concerns. “I feel very confident,” she said, adding the protesters were “paralyzed by the fear.”

The teachers added that they are not the only ones protesting Thursday, noting that teachers from La Follette High School and other schools will be doing the same. Oppenheimer also clarified, teachers will be working usual hours and they are not required to teach virtual lessons from home.

The statement from East teachers and staff appeared to indicate the protest would happen on Thursday only and would not be ongoing.

correction: The original version of this story indicated the protest would be held on Wednesday, March 3. It has been corrected to Thursday, March 4. We regret the error.

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