In many ways, this year of COVID-19 has provided important points on which we can all agree — it is a dangerous virus inflicting devastating impacts on health, health care and social interaction.
There is no single solution a community can provide. Attacking the pandemic is a battle that requires many strategies. Crafting a battle plan without including a cross section of the community, especially the business community, is fool-hardy. Relying on a single tactic, with little regard for outcomes, especially unintended, is an abdication of leadership.
City Hall has recently issued a return to severe restrictions in its efforts to stem the spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization in Racine. They are primarily aimed at private enterprise, including private schools. Small business and schools have followed every mandate/restriction issued by the city. And after a short period of improvement, have been asked to once again bear the brunt of what seems to be ineffectual or one-sided approach to limiting the reach of the virus. The unintended consequences of severely reducing capacities and service are plenty. Most important is the inability to operate business as a going concern. Without some kind of financial support, family-owned and small businesses will be unable to survive at 25% capacity. Could our government leaders make do with 25% of their pay for the foreseeable future? Would they then feel the pain our small businesses feel?
The businesses in Racine have complied with all the restrictions imposed by City Hall. Many of them barely hung on this spring. With newly re-imposed limitations, that number will surely decline. And the decision to close our schools adds additional direct burdens on our kids, particularly those most vulnerable; their parents; and indirectly, our businesses.
This past spring, when COVID-19 first struck, RAMAC, Racine County and over 40 businesses, along with an advisory board of 15, convened and produced Rebound Racine. There was county, business, private, education, faith community, and public representation. They outlined the impact and recovery needs as the county faced the pandemic. Beyond that, they outlined specific steps to reopen and provided recovery resources across a variety of industries. It was a thorough, front-to-back study with multifaceted approaches. It provided multiple and business-specific responses. It was truly inclusive.
Looking at City Hall’s approach to education — restricting both public and private schools to closure — is another example of ignoring those actually involved in education and deciding on a blanket, single solution for all our schools. The leadership of each private school and the superintendent of RUSD should have all been at the table when making these decisions.
This draconian strategy presents huge downside risks: Learning from home, kids identified as at-risk while attending school may slide further and further behind. Reading, math and other gaps become wider as a direct result of closing schools.
Home learning becomes a real burden for working families and for those lacking resources to access on-line learning. The choice facing parents is limited: work from home and help kids learn, return to the workplace and let kids fend for themselves, lacking structure and real-time support, or walk away from jobs that cannot support work at home options, furthering economic stress. Rather than employ a single pronged attack, why not involve educators, administrators and parents in developing viable tactics that keep learners learning, teachers teaching, and parents working?
It’s time Racine’s governing leaders considered alternative and multiple strategies to address the havoc this pandemic is creating. We agree on the problem. Include all stakeholders, including actual non-committee citizens, and our businesses in developing the battle plan. Then you can start talking about real inclusion.
Matt J. Montemurro is the president/CEO of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce.