Assembly GOP letter to schools pushes opening for in-person classes

NOW: Assembly GOP letter to schools pushes opening for in-person classes

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – A letter sent by Assembly Republicans urges school superintendents and administrators across the state to consider opening for in-person instruction even as coronavirus concerns continue.

The letter was sent on July 28 and signed by 47 members of the GOP caucus in the Assembly. The letter claims that a majority of parents want children to return to the classroom this fall and adding that in-person instruction is the best environment for students to learn. The letter was first publicly reported by UpNorthNews.

“To that end, we ask that you consider opening your doors this fall to provide every student with an in-class experience,” the letter reads.

It goes on to say that if schools offer virtual learning, that the GOP members who sent the letter, “strongly encourage [schools] to ensure teachers are physically present in their classrooms.”

Read the letter here: 

“I have parents contacting me literally from all over the state urging me that in a wide majority that we need to get schools open this fall,” Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R – Fond du Lac) told CBS 58 in an interview.

Thiesfeldt also chairs the Assembly Committee on Education and said the letter was meant to offer the caucus’s input for educators as well as voicing the concerns of constituents.

“We didn’t want to put all kinds of pressure on them because we know these are difficult decisions that they’re making,” Thiesfeldt said.

Democrats say otherwise.

“The issue with the letter that Republicans sent is that they have not taken the actions necessary to make it safe for kids to go back to school,” Rep. Greta Neubauer (D – Racine) said in an interview.

CBS 58 was able to confirm the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) was among the districts that received the letter from lawmakers.

Rep. Neubauer said the letter was “inappropriate” and that lawmakers should instead return to session to address issues surrounding COVID-19 in order for things like in-person instruction can return sooner and safely.

“We shouldn’t send threatening letters to school districts,” Neubauer said. “We should be doing everything we can to control COVID-19.”

A union representing educators in Racine called the letter “disturbing.”

“I’m just flabbergasted frankly that they’re playing politics with our children and they’re playing politics with the lives of educators,” said Angelina Cruz, president of Racine Educators United. “We’re talking about people’s lives here.”

Cruz noted that RUSD has gone to significant lengths to ensure the safety of students and educators.

The letter from GOP lawmakers also urged districts to make athletic facilities like gyms and fields open to students and parents. It also said they reached out to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to promulgate a rule allowing for “broader access to the open enrollment process.”

DPI responded to the Republican legislators saying that to promulgate that rule would be complex and some aspects of going about such a change would not necessarily be in their hands.

“Some of those steps are outside of the control of this agency, meaning we cannot predict when a rule could be promulgated,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said in DPI’s response.

Read DPI’s response here:

Rep. Thiesfeldt said there is an emergency rules process that the GOP caucus is exploring.

The issue around the letter is the latest episode surrounding how schools begin the academic year as Wisconsin continues to see COVID-19 cases at a high rate.

Republican lawmakers were concerned that Governor Tony Evers would order schools statewide to being the year virtually after teachers’ unions organized demonstrations calling on the administration to do so.

Evers, however, said there was “no secret plan” to take such action and in his most recent media briefing said his is comfortable with how individual districts have formed their own plans.

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