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Teachers' unions call for state's largest districts to begin year with virtual learning
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Teachers' unions call for state's largest districts to begin year with virtual learning

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Teachers’ union leaders in Wisconsin’s five largest urban school districts, including Kenosha, are calling on the state to allow schools to re-open this fall with classes taking place in the virtual learning environment instead of buildings.

“Our students need safe, equitable, well-resourced classrooms staffed with highly qualified educators, so they can learn. The classroom is where every single educator wants to be this fall, but with no containment of Wisconsin COVID-19 cases, a virtual reopening for public schools is necessary,” according to a letter signed by Justin Delfosse, president of the Green Bay Education Association; Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, president of the Kenosha Education Association; Andy Waity, president of the Madison Teachers Incorporated; Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association; and Angelina Cruz, president of Racine Educators United.

The letter, addressed to Gov. Tony Evers, along with Department of Public Instruction State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm, urges the state leaders to “guarantee a science-informed safe and equitable school re-opening” for the upcoming academic year.

Together the teachers’ unions represent more than 10,000 public education workers from across the state, responsible for educating over 160,000 public school students.

Teachers’ union leaders cited caution from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reopening schools would be “highest risk,” and that, in both K-12 and higher education settings, the more people interact “and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

The “lowest risk,” the guidelines say, would be for students and teachers to attend virtual-only classes, they said.

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The unions deferred to a Kaiser Family Foundation report indicating that one in every four educators falls in a high-risk category, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 along with the disproportionate effects of illness and death on students of color and their families.

They pointed to the “long-standing systemic health and social inequities” that have influenced higher risk of coronavirus infections or severe illness among those in racial and ethnic minority groups, regardless of their age.

Among some racial and ethnic minority groups, such as non-Hispanic Black persons, Hispanics and Latinos and American Indians/Alaska Natives, evidence points to higher rates of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 than among non-Hispanic white persons, according to the CDC.

In-person vs. virtual start student options

In Kenosha Unified, a district survey of parents received 8,674 responses, with 72% preferring in-person learning to virtual learning. At a presentation last Thursday, district teams planning for the re-start of school in September made the recommendation that students in elementary and middle schools be allowed a choice of either starting school in-person or in a virtual environment, but not a combination. They would also have to make a yearlong commitment to their preferred learning environment, according to the plans.

At the high school level, according to the proposal, students starting the year in-person would go to school in their respective buildings four days a week with one day of virtual learning on Friday. High school students choosing the virtual option would learn online five days a week. Like the middle and elementary schools, they also would be required to make a yearlong commitment to either virtual or in-person education.

In addition, the district expects to require masks be worn by all students, staff and anyone who enters a Unified property, and “non-essential” visitors would be limited at those locations. The district’s re-opening plans are expected to be finalized and go before the KUSD School Board for consideration July 28.

Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis has said the district continues to monitor COVID-19 surveillance data and the latest information of local, state and national health officials and that nothing in the plan would preclude the district closing buildings again and, without hesitation, reverting to all virtual learning for students if the need arose.

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