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Trapped in virtual school

By M.D. Kittle

Wisconsin Spotlight | Oct. 12, 2020

MADISON — When the Wisconsin Supreme Court slapped an injunction on Dane County’s health department, private schools rejoiced.

The order issued last month stopped Public Health Madison & Dane County from barring in-person learning for students in grades 3 and up. Shortly before the school year started, unelected health bureaucrats pulled the rug out from under the schools and ordered virtual learning for all amid the pandemic.

Private schools sued and, for now, are holding in-person classes while the two sides battle in court.

But for the parents of students in most of Dane County’s public schools, there was no victory. Public schools, led by Madison, the county’s biggest school district, kept their virtual learning models in place. And parents like Jeffrey Becker say it’s the kids who are paying the price.

“The problem is, it’s like a cabal of these school districts and the county health department,” said the Verona resident, who has four children in local schools. “They’re not going to consider health metrics that are different from the county.”

Public Health Madison & Dane’s school reopening guidelines for middle and high schools demand a 14-day average of 19 COVID-19 cases per day or less countywide. The target must be sustained for two weeks.

Becker said the metrics are “arbitrary and impractical.” More so, they’re unachievable. False positives alone, he said, would likely exceed the threshold. Health experts say the virus will not be completely suppressed even after a vaccine. Just like the flu.

Becker said the teachers unions in Dane County also have an iron grip on the public school districts. The unions have made clear they don’t want teachers anywhere near the classroom.

Madison public schools have paid for their school district insistence on shutting down in-person learning. Enrollment has plummeted by more than 1,000 students, according to the latest count.

“More than half of the drop, 56%, is accounted for by students moving to another district in Wisconsin, according to the memo. Another 15% is students who moved out of state, with open enrollment, private school, international move, drop outs and homeschooling accounting for the rest,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

But a lot of families feel left behind in an inadequate virtual land.

“Educationally, it’s subpar. We don’t have nearly as much actual teaching time,” Becker said. “They call it asynchronous learning, which means kids are playing on their phones that day.”

Parents tired of the school lockdown have formed a Facebook group — Open Dane County Public Private Schools. The page has attracted some 800 followers.

It’s not just a place to commiserate. It’s a site for action.

“Our postcards are in! Who wants to drop some of these on doors or in newspaper boxes (no contact) in your County Supervisor’s District to keep the pressure on the elected officials? Despite what they say, they control a lot of what happens at Public Health Madison & Dane County,” a post from Sept. 19 states.

“Make sure the County Executive and County Board know we will hold them accountable for decisions affecting our kids’ education. E-mail grassroots@opendanecountyschools.com to get in on this, and with enough critical mass in districts, we will print more postcards and get advocating!”

They’re tired of the status quo. With liberal Dane County tied to the hip of the big government Evers administration and its crushing health emergency declarations, Becker said grassroots efforts are the only way to change the system.

“The only option I see is unseating or recalling board members or discrediting the metrics they’ve set. That’s what I think is necessary if we want to get our kids back in school,” he said.

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