(The Center Square) – Teachers in Wisconsin's largest school districts say students and teachers need to start the new school year at home.
The heads of the teachers' unions in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha on Monday all signed an open letter to Gov. Tony Evers asking him to issue a statewide order that blocks kids from returning to classrooms in September.
"Strong and immediate action to keep Wisconsin students safe is needed," the letter begins.
The union chiefs say the coronavirus is spiking in Wisconsin, and that puts teachers at risk.
"The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report indicating that one in every four educators falls in a high-risk category making them more vulnerable to Covid-19," the letter states.
It adds that students of color are also at risk.
"And as districts serving majority populations of students and families of color, we cannot ignore the disproportionate impact of illness and death that Covid-19 has had on Black and Brown communities," the union chiefs wrote. "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."
Milwaukee and Madison public schools already announced that they will start the year with at least four weeks of online classes.
Evers has said that he expects all schools in Wisconsin to open this fall, but he has not said if schools should open to in-person classes. Evers said local schools should make the decision for themselves.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Monday her local school districts in Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties are looking to get back to classrooms this fall.
"I’ve been in contact with every superintendent in my district. I have full confidence in the ability of our district administrators to make wise and informed decisions,” Darling said, “They are consulting with health professionals, parents, and teachers. They will make the best possible decision for their communities. I strongly support their priority of getting children back into the classroom.”
As for the fear that going back to school during a pandemic will lead to a wave of sick kids, Darling said she's talked to doctors about that "science."
“There is no one-size fits all plan for our schools, but these guidelines outline the priorities of getting kids back to school, back into the classrooms, and back to normalcy," Darling said. "I’ve talked to pediatricians who have universally expressed deep concerns with disruptions in learning, situations at home that relate to mental health and domestic violence, and further widening the achievement gap.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics also says students should return to the classroom in the fall.