October 31, 2021

Schools Prepare for Likely OK of Vaccines for 5 to 11 Year-Olds

As Wisconsin educators begin to receive COVID-19 booster shots for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, schools and medical professionals are preparing for an initial rush of interest in vaccines for young that are likely coming soon.

A federal advisory committee voted October 26 to recommend the vaccine to children ages 5-11, with final approval coming as soon as November 2.

The emergency use authorization of a vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds is a welcome development for Wisconsin Public Schools, said Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The authorization expands the number of students eligible to receive the vaccine and paves the way for safer, healthier schools, Wirtz-Olsen said.

“WEAC has been a strong voice for educators during the pandemic, including introducing our Safe & Healthy Schools Plan at the start of this school year,” Wirtz-Olsen said. The association supports universal masking in schools, vaccinations for all adults and students eligible to receive them, and educator involvement in science-based school decisions around COVID.

“When communities come together around proven mitigation strategies like masking and vaccines, our youngest learners will more quickly get back to what they love most about school like playing with friends and extracurricular activities.”


Health Officials Report on Cases of COVID-19

Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has returned to its downward trend during the week of October 25. The state Department of Health Services reported new confirmed cases were declining for the first time since September 13.


Educators and administrators are hopeful that the downward trend continues – especially after younger students can get vaccinated — and they are looking to opportunities to better meet student health needs coming out of the pandemic. A new report shows nationally at least 25 percent of schools have no nurse and 35 percent have only a part-time nurse. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan funding will help fill those needs, instead of local schools spending general operations funds on contract nurses or other arrangements to meet student needs.


School Board Recalls Over Masks, Racial Divisions Continue

Throughout the pandemic, school board recall efforts fueled by outbursts at public meetings around universal masking and often merged with hostile attacks against district initiatives on racial equity have long been tied with outside groups. New finance reports now show that Republican megadonor billionaire Richard Uihlein is the top contributor to the recall effort against four Mequon-Thiensville school board members, giving $6,000 to recall committees. And for nearly $6,000, recall organizers have enlisted the firm of Lane Ruhland, an attorney who worked for the Trump campaign and helped file nomination papers in Wisconsin for Kanye West’s campaign.

Rebecca Kleefisch, who served as lieutenant governor under Scott Walker and is now running for governor herself in 2023, is downplaying threats against school board members which have drawn national attention and caused many Wisconsin elected officials to step down in fear for their safety and that of their families.

“I would love for these folks to have gone through what Gov. Scott Walker and I went through during the recalls: The vuvuzelas and the drums, and the death threats, and the people who were showering inside the public restrooms, sleeping two-by-two in sleeping bags, banging on cars, threatening my children, spreading lies and intimidating us,” Kleefisch said in an audio recording from the Kenosha County Republican Party obtained by media. “Imagine if school board members felt something like that. Instead, all they feel is the pressure of their actual constituents asking them to do their job.”

A spokesperson for Governor Tony Evers called Kleefisch’s comments “absolutely abhorrent. No one in Wisconsin should be encouraging violence of any kind, much less a candidate for governor.”

In the Kenosha Unified School District, where protestors in the so-called culture wars around masking, race and gender, the school board declined to incorporate an advisory vote by electors during the district’s annual meeting on September 21 that proposed a $2.9 million cut to school revenue. Members of the group seeking to decrease funding for public school students and cut the pay of school board members have stood on chairs and shouted during board meetings leading up to the September vote.

In the much-smaller community of Baraboo, an unprecedented number of community members attended the Baraboo School District’s annual meeting October 25, raising school board members’ salaries over the vocal objections of a minority. About 300 people, including Baraboo’s mayor, members of the city council and Sauk County Board and state Rep. Dave Considine of Baraboo attended the meeting along with at least two dozen community members wore matching red shirts emblazoned with “We the People Sauk County,” some of which featured the Gadsden flag.

Superintendent Rainey Briggs delivered his first state of the district address, at times speaking directly to the audience. He presented the district’s strategic plan, which was adopted in 2019 prior to Briggs’ hiring. It drives school staff and leadership, who “want to make sure that every kid that enters our schools know that they belong here,” he said.

Baraboo schools were thrust into the national spotlight in 2018 when a photo surfaced of a prom night photograph of a large number of students with their arms raised stiffly in a Nazi salute.

In recent months, a group — often numbering between one and two dozen — has been regularly attending school board meetings to advocate for an end to the district’s mask requirement. Some have taken issue with the district’s focus on equity and “culturally relevant instruction.”