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Wisconsin Spotlight | Jan.6 , 2021

MADISON — Of the many trials the Pandemic Era has delivered, the lost year of education may rank among the more destructive.

Students in all grade levels, in all socio-economic categories, have struggled in the face of logistical challenges and an inadequate virtual learning system. But minority and low-income children, many already failing to make the grade, have been left farther behind.

Students in the Racine Unified School District, one of the state’s largest school systems, couldn’t even count on online learning after the COVID-19 outbreak struck Wisconsin in March.

RUSD was one of 13 districts statewide that did not offer virtual education in the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year. So students in one of the worst-performing school districts had virtually no direct education — in-person or online — for three months of the school year, according to a report from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Racine administrators ironically cited lack of internet access and devices for their decision, even though the district emailed packets of learning materials to students to meet basic instructional requirements.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) voiced his disgust in the school district, asserting RUSD “abandoned” its students last spring.

“I shouldn’t even have to call them out for this. They always claim to know better. It’s crazy,” the lawmaker said in a press release. “According to state assessments, Unified students are already struggling, and RUSD’s answer was to say ‘we’re done for the year.’ What ever happened to problem solving? Where has the administration been? It’s so disappointing.”

In the 2018-19 school year, the last year DPI bothered to issue district report cards, Racine Unified was meeting “few expectations.” The district received 56.8 out of a possible 100 points. It marked the third year in a row RUSD scored what would be an F on any measurable test.

Nearly all of Wisconsin’s 421 public school districts (97 percent) reported offering some type of virtual instruction after Gov. Tony Evers issued his public health order in March locking down the state. Schools remained closed through the end of the school year in June.

Each of the 13 districts without online learning did provide some form of remote learning, according to DPI. Each rolled out some form of virtual, hybrid or in-person learning at the beginning of the current school year.

The other school districts that did not provide virtual education were:

  • Adams Friendship
  • Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine
  • Clintonville
  • Crivitz
  • Gillett
  • Gresham
  • Hayward
  • Ithica
  • Mellen
  • Menomonie
  • Paris J1
  • White Lake

Those districts, most in rural areas, have significantly smaller enrollments than Racine Unified, which boasts its ranking as the 5th largest school district in the state, serving 17,500 students. Little White Lake has an enrollment of less than 150 students.

Wanggaard said the district has done a disservice to the children it is supposed to educate.

“Racine’s kids are now behind their peers all across the state,” the senator said.“The RUSD School Board hasn’t announced how they plan to get them caught up on what they’ve missed. What’s the plan?”

While many industries saw massive layoffs, educators have been fairly insulated from the economic impacts of COVID-19. According to DPI, 82 percent of Wisconsin’s public school districts reported no layoffs. And a majority of school districts (71 percent) reported decreases in costs related to the health emergency, while 26 percent noted increases.

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