| Covid-19 The teacher marks empty places in the classroom

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s largest teachers’ union wants to give state regulators, not local school boards, the power to decide when classes will be moved online. 

The Wisconsin Education Association wrote a letter to Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm asking that her department make the decision to close local schools. 

“On behalf of tens of thousands of educators represented by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), we urge DHS to exercise its authority and issue a mandatory, effective, statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic in schools,” the union wrote. “As long as school districts remain open for in-person instruction, bringing together dozens of students and staff from different households in confined spaces for extended periods of time, and as long as unmasked high school football players are seen huddling together and high-fiving one another on the evening news, citizens will not take the pandemic seriously.”

The union says Palm has the power to order schools closed, though that remains to be seen. The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday heard a legal challenge to Gov. Tony Evers’ use of his emergency powers, but the court has not ruled yet. 

The decision to close schools and/or move classes online has been a local decision since the outbreak began in March. 

The union doesn’t like that. 

“[The] lack of binding guidance has resulted in dangerously inconsistent approaches by local health departments and school districts and has led to confusion, unpredictability and discord in local communities,” WEAC wrote in its letter to Palm. 

WEAC blames Repiublican lawmakers for “thwarting” Palm’s “good faith efforts” to control the coronavirus. State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, on Tuesday said if the state does anything it should be to make it tougher for schools to close and move classes online. 

“I’ll say it again: teachers should be declared ‘essential workers’ so our Wisconsin students don’t fall behind in academic achievement,” Strobel said on Twitter. 

Stroebel also reacted to a new study that shows politics, not data, drove many decisions to cancel in-person school in Wisconsin this year. 

“Cancelling in-person classes is more associated with union preferences, politics than COVID-19 data,” Strobel tweeted. “Wisconsin school districts should pay attention to data and stop doing the bidding of self-interested unions.”

The union said in its letter that the opposite is happening. WEAC said many school boards are listening to parents and not the local teachers’ union.

“School districts across the state are caving to community pressure to remain open rather than engaging in science-based decision making,” the union’s letter stated. “Indeed, one nationwide study shows that decision making regarding the reopening of schools, was based on politics and not science. After examining 10,000 school districts, the study found virtually no connection between COVID-19 case rates and decision-making by schools. This has been apparent in Wisconsin.”

Palm’s Department of Health Services reported on Tuesday that 29,716 of the nearly 800,000 school kids in Wisconsin have tested positive for the coronavirus. The vast majority of them have been declared recovered. DHS says no one under 19-years-old has died from the virus.

 

The Center Square Correspondent

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.