The president of the local teacher's union is calling once again on Kenosha Unified to reinstate exclusive districtwide virtual instruction after two Indian Trail High School and Academy students tested positive for COVID-19 a few days after the district opened the 2020-21 academic year to in-classroom instruction.
"Unfortunately, this is not unexpected. Safety protocols in schools have been largely ignored or unanswered. KUSD was not prepared for a return to in-person instruction and, as a result, we are already seeing positive cases only three days into our return with students," Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, president of the Kenosha Education Association, said in a statement to the Kenosha News Wednesday night.
"The KEA position has always been that an all virtual start to the school year with a phased-in approach is the most responsible way to ensure safety and to allow for more time to best prepare students and staff for an in-person return. I fear that because we rushed to reopen our schools, we are going to be forced to close down again very soon."
According to a statement from the district, one of the students — who has symptoms of the virus — went to school Monday before staying home Tuesday. The second student went to school both Monday and Tuesday before staying home Wednesday.
Both students are now in isolation.
"There is no way to 'pivot' after people have become sick, have had serious health complications, or die as a result of contracting the virus. The damage will already have been done. A surge in our schools doesn’t just impact staff and students, it impacts the entire community. Our students and staff go home to families. Those families go to workplaces. There is a domino effect that puts us all in danger," she said.
Kitts-Lewinski, who is also an Indian Trail teacher, said the virus also disproportionately impacts Black, brown, indigenous, and working class communities, adding that "we are negligent to not consider those who are most impacted, those who make up the majority of the families we serve in KUSD."
"We understand virtual instruction presents challenges for families, but KUSD is putting lives at risk by insisting on in-person instruction," she said.
KUSD is the only large district in Wisconsin offering in-person education to start the year.
In July, the School Board initially made the decision to start the school year with all of its students learning through virtual instruction. By August, however, the board rescinded that decision and switched to a plan that accommodated both virtual and in-person instruction after pressure from parents who said an exclusively virtual plan would pose a hardship to those who work outside of the home and for students, especially those with special needs.
Earlier this month, parents and union members who have called on the district to start the school year with the phased in virtual plan protested before the School Board meeting. They called on the board to re-instate virtual learning, however, the board at its Sept. 3 meeting re-affirmed its decision to offer both virtual and in-person learning options.
Students began attending school in person on Monday with 58% of the district's student population opting for in-person learning. All Unified schools went to virtual learning in March after the state ordered schools closed due to the pandemic.
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