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'My child needs to be in school:' Unified parents speak out in favor of in-person learning

RACINE — Parents urged the Racine Unified School Board during its latest meeting to return students to in-person learning.

Monday was the first time the School Board allowed public comment during one of its business meetings in around six months. Board President Brian O’Connell previously said this was due to logistical issues as the board had been hosting meetings via Zoom since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. There were a few technical issues during the comment period on Monday that caused some minor delays.

Out of the 11 people who commented during the meeting, either in-person or via email, nine of those implored the board to get students back into classrooms.

Nick Schliepp said his son just started in 4-year-old kindergarten at Gifford K-8 this year. Schliepp said his son was excited to go to school and meet new friends. Now he sits in front of a tablet and watches a pre-recorded video for 15 minutes every day, then does lessons, assisted by his mother.

“On the first day of school he was extremely sad in a way I’ve never seen before,” Schliepp said as he became visibly emotional.

Schliepp said that now any time they pass Gifford his son begs to go to his “big school” and play with his friends.

Schliepp asked if he could invoice the district for all the time his wife spends helping their son with his lessons, while she also works from home.

“At the end of the day, my child needs to be in school and needs to be with his friends,” Schliepp said.

Kimberly VanDyke, who has two children in RUSD elementary schools, said in her emailed comment that she’s seen plenty of other children go back to day care, private schools and sports without causing COVID-19 outbreaks. She asked the district to return Unified students to school as well.

“My heart is breaking for not only my children but for all kids in the RUSD district,” VanDyke said.

She said her children miss the structure that in-person school provides, as well as their teachers and playing with their friends.

She referenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s assertion that keeping schools closed can negatively impact the social-emotional wellbeing of children in addition to their academic success.

VanDyke wrote that the downsides of virtual learning disproportionately impact low-income and minority children and those with disabilities. She added that those groups are more likely than their peers to rely on school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling and after-school programs.

“I’m asking you to please put our children and their education first,” VanDyke said. “Please give us a choice to send our kids back to school.”

Joseph Kobriger, who described himself as a grandfather and father, said he was sure that keeping schools closed was not about student safety.

Kobringer said that children do not learn life skills in front of a computer and that coronavirus is not killing students and teachers.

“I don’t see this (keeping school buildings closed) protecting students,” he said. “It’s hurting students.”

Ally Docksey asserted that most teachers do not face an elevated risk of complications due to COVID-19 and said that the recent spike in cases across the state is due to students returning to college.

“Those of us who want our kids in school know there’s an increased risk,” Docksey said. “Those of us who want our children in school are willing to take that risk.”

Those who spoke out in favor of returning to students to in-person learning were met with applause from other members of the public who attended the meeting.

In contrast with the majority of speakers, Jenna Contreras said via email that due to the rising level of cases in Wisconsin and among Unified staff members, it is not safe to have students return to the classroom this fall.

“It is absolutely not smart, safe or in the best interest of staff or students to have children return to the buildings in any way at this time,” she wrote. “Teachers are not martyrs and should not be expected to act as such.”

Angelina Cruz, president of the Unified teachers’ union Racine Educators United, emailed a statement in agreement with Contreras.

Cruz wrote that she was “gravely concerned” about the district considering opening school buildings to students during the second quarter.

She cited several reasons, including the increase in the percentage of positive tests locally and across the state as well as cases within Racine Unified schools even with only staff and a small number of special education students back in the buildings.

“Though these are difficult and unprecedented times, it is imperative the safety of staff and students is at the forefront of all decisions made,” Cruz said.

Racine Unified Superintendent Eric Gallien announced during Monday’s meeting that the district was set to put out surveys to staff and Unified families on Tuesday to get feedback from the community about remote learning and how it’s going. Gallien said the district aims to use that feedback to make informed decisions about how to move forward, either with continued virtual learning, or bringing students back to school in some format.

Sept. 30: The Journal Times pages from the past
Sept. 30: The Journal Times pages from the past

Mount Pleasant OKs trick-or-treating

MOUNT PLEASANT — With the specter of COVID-19 casting a long shadow over everyday life, it’s a toss-up whether trick-or-treating will be more trick or treat this year. It’s a question that municipalities across Racine County, the state and the nation are grappling with in advance of Halloween.

At Monday’s meeting of the Village Board, Village Administrator Maureen Murphy reported that Mount Pleasant will be allowing door-to-door trick-or-treating on Saturday, Oct. 31, from 5 to 7 p.m.

“I am absolutely delighted to announce that Mount Pleasant will have Halloween trick-or-treating,” Murphy said, noting she had heard from several village trustees and employees and fielded numerous public inquiries regarding trick-or-treating in recent days.

“I would say that this is all about managing risk. The CDC considers trick-or-treating as a ‘higher risk activity,’ but in discussions with the Central Racine County Health Department, she (Health Officer Margaret Gesner) did acknowledge and say to me that children will be outside, they will be wearing masks and, I’ll tell you that if Halloween is anything like last year, they’re going to be wearing gloves, too. Given that situation, I think we can reduce risk further if we encourage kids to stay within their neighborhoods.”

Murphy encouraged village residents to leave their porch lights on if they plan to participate in trick-or-treating.

“That way, if the porch lights are off, kids know not to come to your house,” she noted.

Ultimately, Murphy said, child participation in trick-or-treating is up to parental discretion.

“As always, parents know best for their children,” she said.

CDC warning

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending against traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating this year.

The Wisconsin DHS cautions: “Going house-to-house and having in-person contact is not recommended.”

From the CDC: “Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses. There are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween.”

Nevertheless, many local municipalities are allowing it this year, including the City of Burlington, Caledonia, Dover, Norway, Sturtevant, Union Grove, the Village of Waterford, Wind Point and Yorkville.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the Caledonia Police Department made a few recommendations for families. Instead of putting out a large bowl, put a few pieces at a time on a tray. “Please DO NOT hand out candy by throwing it at people,” stated the Facebook post from the department, which often adds a bit of comedy to posts.

In photos: Trick or treating in Mount Pleasant, Caledonia

Your guide to trick-or-treat plans in Racine County

State health officials are recommending against trick-or-treating as usual this Halloween because of COVID-19, while some Racine County municipalities are allowing trick-or-treating to commence as usual or with some suggested modifications.

topical alert
Teachers test positive for COVID-19 at several Racine Unified schools


RACINE — Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among staff at several Racine Unified schools.

The vast majority of RUSD students are learning remotely, with staff teaching from their school buildings and a limited number of special education students who cannot be served remotely learning in person.

“We want to make sure that the community is aware that most of those exposures to COVID did not happen in our schools,” said Superintendent Eric Gallien. “Most of those were situations where they were engaged with families, maybe attending an event.”

Gallien later added that the district is utilizing contact tracing and is working with local health departments to determine who has been exposed and who should quarantine.

Chief Operating Officer Shannon Gordon did not provide numbers on how many teachers were infected or how many schools were involved, saying it was too complicated with some teachers having tests out, some with confirmed cases and others in quarantine. She added that there were also employees working from home who contracted COVID through their day-to-day activities.

In a Monday communication to members of the Unified teachers union Racine Educators United, President Angelina Cruz wrote that there were confirmed cases in seven Unified schools, in addition to the Administrative Service Campus.

Gordon said that the district is looking to work with the health department to develop a COVID-19 data dashboard so that teachers, parents and students can look online to see what’s happening at their schools.

School Board member John Heckenlively said that he believes transparency is vital amid the pandemic.

“I think the worst possible thing you could do during a public health crisis is try and hide things,” said Heckenlively, who disclosed in a Journal Times report in June that he had recovered from COVID-19.

Gallien said, during Monday’s School Board meeting, that the district’s Smart Start team is working continuously with the local health departments to monitor the COVID-19 situation. Unified is set to make an announcement about whether students will return for the second quarter in-person in some capacity by mid-October.

School Board Vice President Jane Barbian said that just a few weeks ago she was encouraged by the decreasing COVID numbers and was thinking that returning to in-person learning might be safe.

A former teacher, Barbian said she especially feels for the youngest elementary teachers and their students, who really need to learn in person.

“Since then our COVID numbers have skyrocketed in Wisconsin,” Barbian said.

In the past two weeks Barbian said she had attended some outdoor functions in the community. She estimated there were around 500 people at one of the events and she was one of the few people wearing a mask, even though there was ample signage saying that masks were required.

“I’m sorry, but if we don’t have people following the protocols and wearing masks, avoiding large groups, staying socially distanced…we can’t have safe COVID numbers for us to reopen schools,” Barbian said.

School Board member Mike Frontier echoed Barbian and asked for the community’s help in getting COVID numbers in check so that students can return to their classrooms.

Sept. 30: The Journal Times pages from the past
Sept. 30: The Journal Times pages from the past