Teachers’ unions continue pressure on Evers to order virtual start to school year

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Citing COVID-19 concerns, teachers unions continue to call on the Evers administration to order schools statewide to begin the academic year in the fall online, a move that would meet certain opposition from conservative lawmakers.

“We need a statewide solution to get this under control,” Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Amy Mizialko told reporters Monday. “So we can get our kids back [to] face-to-face school again.”

Mizialko joined teachers’ unions and supporting groups from southeastern Wisconsin in a caravan from their home districts to the state capital, where they made stops at the Capitol, the Department of Health Services building and the Department of Public Instruction building. Last month, they sent a letter to Governor Evers, asking that he order schools closed for in-person classes and instead begin the year virtually, saying that the summer surge in COVID-19 cases poses a health risk for staff, students and their parents.

“[DHS] Secretary [Andrea] Palm cannot in good conscience let students and staff be marched into schools face-to-face when we know the infection rate will increase exponentially,” Mizialko said.

The state Supreme Court limited DHS Secretary-designee Palm’s power when it ruled on the Safer at Home order in May, but it left powers over the school’s mainly untouched, leaving open the possibility of school closures.

Republican lawmakers, however, are opposed to that action.

“I can tell you, most of the members of my caucus believe that kids should go back to school,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) told CBS 58 in an interview.

The GOP is concerned about the pressure from educators on the governor, himself a former state superintendent and teacher. Such action would likely prompt Republicans to try to block it.

“I hope he doesn’t do it and certainly I think there would be a response from the Legislature if he did do that,” Fitzgerald said.

CBS 58 reached out to Gov. Evers’ office but did not immediately hear back. In recent media briefings, Evers has not indicated that he wants to order the statewide closure of in-person classes and has thus far been comfortable with the actions taken by individual districts.

Earlier this year, the DPI sent out guidance for schools, suggesting a combination of in-person and virtual learning as the presence of the coronavirus continues.

Sen. Fitzgerald released a statement Tuesday, Aug. 4, saying he acknowledges a report where Gov. Evers said he has no plans to order schools statewide to be closed for in-person classes this fall, but adds that lawmakers should remain “vigilant” in case the governor changes position. His full statement below:

“I appreciate the governor’s statements that support in-person instruction, but actions speak louder than words. Earlier this spring, the governor flip-flopped on whether to issue a stay-at-home order. He flip-flopped on whether to move the April 7th Election. I’m fearful that he will cave to pressures from liberal groups and backtrack once again. The fight isn’t over yet, and legislators will remain vigilant. I would urge citizens of Wisconsin who support in-person instruction to keep the pressure on the governor.”
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