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Wisconsin's largest teachers union asks DHS to play a larger role in when schools can reopen

Posted at 8:05 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 21:05:12-05

GREEN BAY, Wis (NBC 26) -- On Monday Wisconsin's largest teacher's union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council or WEAC, called on Governor Evers and the Department of Health Services to play a larger role in deciding when all schools should welcome students back to the classroom.

In a recent survey of Wisconsin teachers, the WEAC found that 90 percent of educators surveyed thought it was time for the state to create criteria, all schools must meet, before reopening and allowing students back. Many representatives of teachers' unions across the state, including Justin Delfosse of the Green Bay Education Association, say a more uniform approach to reopening schools makes sense.

"Some places are open where cases are skyrocketing, others are closed. Having some statewide gating criteria would allow a little more consistency across the state."

While students in the Green Bay Area Public School District have been taught virtually since the beginning of the quarter, other districts in Brown County have gone in-person, virtually, a mixture of the two, and even back and forth with their instruction methods. In nearly all cases school boards and local public health departments decide when individual school districts are ready to allow students back.

"I feel like there has been a lot of political pressure on health departments. Depending on if it's a conservative area or a more liberal area. In my opinion, this should not be a political issue," said Delfosse.

On Tuesday, the WEAC called on the Department of Health Services and Governor Evers to begin following uniformed guidelines regarding when schools should reopen. It's a request that would force all school districts to use data related to COVID-19 positive cases within their communities, to determine when a school should begin allowing students back to the classroom.

"Enforcing consistent gating criteria is a responsible solution grounded in science and public health. Without this statewide approach, Wisconsin is sending a paralysis mixed message of hands-off when it comes to schools," said Ron Martin the President of the WEAC.

WEAC leaders say it's within the Department of Public Health's legal authority to set such criteria or standards for districts statewide. Martin says with nearly 700 active COVID-19 outbreak investigations currently being conducted at Wisconsin public schools, now is the time for uniformity when it comes to allowing students back to the classroom.

"The priority of the state's top public health agency must be keeping our communities safe until this pandemic is under control."