October 14, 2021

State of Education: Divisions Continue Over Pandemic Safety

State of Education: Divisions Continue Over Pandemic Safety Featured Image

Lawsuits are circulating in Wisconsin over COVID-19 protocols, including in Fall Creek and Waukesha, by parents seeking to have local school districts follow CDC guidelines. In Lake Mills, a parent filed a demand letter calling for a mask optional policy instead of the current universal masking requirement. A demand letter is often a precursor to a lawsuit.

The moves are among the latest developments in the tensions from differing opinions about whether schools should require masks and follow other recommendations by medical experts, such as quarantining. WEAC  has called for universal masking for students and staff, vaccinations for all adults in schools, and educators included in school decisions – which should be based on science.

Statewide, school board members who have supported expert guidelines report threats for their stance. It’s happening across America, prompting the national school boards’ association to request federal intervention. Congressional Republicans including Wisconsin’s Glenn Grothman have objected to a Justice Department investigation into violent threats made against local school board members and teachers, arguing that the federal agency is “policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents.”

Threats of recalls are also occurring throughout Wisconsin as small but vocal groups seek to punish board members who vote to follow guidelines set by national medical experts. In Manitowoc, Stevens Point and Mequon-Thiensville, parents are seeking to recall members who voted for increased safety measures, often also voicing other dissatisfaction with school curriculum. A similar attempt in Wisconsin Rapids failed to garner enough support to trigger a recall.

Safety Protocol Changes

Wisconsin schools continue to shift safety protocols sometimes on a weekly basis. The Janesville School Board set new metrics for moving to mask-optional operations, while the Phillips School Board voted 5-2 to forego quarantining after a COVID outbreak in the first-grade classroom as recommended by county, state and national experts.

“It’s difficult for me to understand why people wouldn’t want to do things that might make the situation safer for someone else,” one Phillips parent told a reporter, noting that parents compromised when the district did not support universal masking. Refusing to require exposed people to stay home goes too far, she said, as the virus can easily spread to more vulnerable people.

“The school doesn’t exist in a bubble, and so what happens if we let uncontrolled or unmitigated spread happen in the school, that affects the community,” the parent said. “And so we have a lot of elders in our community who are then put at unnecessary risk then.”