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KEA files class action grievance against Unified alleging safety violations amid pandemic
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KEA files class action grievance against Unified alleging safety violations amid pandemic

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The local teachers union has filed a class action grievance detailing the lack of adequate safety protocols and enforcement across Kenosha Unified School District. The grievance is based on more than 300 reported violations and concerns, according to a statement issued by the Kenosha Educators Association.

KEA officials said they have requested specific remedies to ensure the safety of educators and students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 200 educators have signed the grievance, according to the statement. A class action grievance is a type of complaint that alleges collective bargaining violations.

Union officials said they also filed an official complaint with the Kenosha County Division of Health in October. That complaint asked that the department investigate the current health and safety conditions of school buildings.

The district, they said, issued a recent statement that ignored the county’s recommendations to close schools until January.

The Kenosha Unified School Board met Tuesday night and voted to move students to an all-virtual instruction format beginning Nov. 30 and continuing through Jan. 8. Union members again testified to recommend school closure, as they have since July, when the School Board initially voted to start the school year exclusively in a virtual learning format.

The union’s release cited School Board President Tom Duncan and his initial position opposing a return to in-person instruction due to the growing increase of positive cases in the community. The board, including Duncan, however, rescinded that decision in August when it voted to offer both virtual and in-person instruction beginning Sept. 14 as part of the Return 2020 Plan.

COVID-19 has spread more rapidly across the U.S., and particularly in Wisconsin, than it has at any time since the pandemic started. According to the KEA release, on Sunday the 7-day moving average of new daily cases was 141.7 and the positivity rate was 43.3% in Kenosha County.

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Last week, Unified officials reaffirmed the district’s position to continue to offer both learning options to students, a departure from Division of Health Director Jen Freiheit’s recommendation that all schools switch to a virtual learning format beginning Nov. 23 and continuing through Jan. 4. The recommendation is non-binding, however.

Unified officials have said the transition of a school or schools or the entire district to virtual learning during the pandemic would occur when there is:

Greater than 3 percent positive cases in a school in the last 14 days, based on the cumulative total of in-person staff and student COVID-19 positive cases divided by the total in-person staff and student population.

A significant community outbreak in progress or having recently occurred (such as at a large community event or among a local employer) that is affecting multiple staff, students and families such that the County Division of Health requires the district to close buildings.

Staff absences due to individuals personally testing positive or required to self-quarantine as a close contact and reaching a level that has the potential to compromise the safety or fidelity of the learning environment.

As of Monday, the latest data available from Unified, the percentage of positive cases had not reached the threshold to warrant districtwide transitioning to virtual learning.

“We can debate the merits of virtual versus in-person instruction, but this is about peoples’ lives, and KUSD has an obligation to provide educators and students with a safe teaching and learning environment,” KEA President Tanya Kitts-Lewinski said.

She called the district “unwilling and/or incapable of implementing procedures to limit spread in Kenosha schools, and consequently, the community,” based on safety reports submitted by educators.

“Flagrantly ignoring the recommendations of the Kenosha County Health Department is reckless, irresponsible and puts our entire community in danger,” Kitts-Lewinski said.

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