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.