Racine schools prepare for return to in-person classes, some health concerns remain among educators

NOW: Racine schools prepare for return to in-person classes, some health concerns remain among educators

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RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) – Concerns about preparedness and adequate information were raised during a Racine Unified School District Board meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, but district leaders pushed back on notions it was rushing into the return to in-person classes with a lack of readiness.

“I’m very, very confused and I’m getting frightened that we are one week away and we still don’t have these details in place,” Jane Brewer Barbian, of RUSD’s 5th district, said during the meeting.

“The administration has worked tirelessly, tirelessly to make sure that we’re ready for this, so it’s a little insulting to hear how the questions are being asked as if we’re not doing this,” RUSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien said later in the evening.

RUSD announced last month its plan to return to in-person instruction beginning March 1.

The district and its schools have finalized and submitted safety plans to the county health department for review.

In a presentation on Monday night, the district said 53 percent of its students said in a survey they intend to return to class for in-person learning.

But some teachers are concerned about their health and safety surrounding the spread of coronavirus and want the district to wait until more staff are vaccinated.

571 staff members at RUSD have received their first dose and 492 have received their second dose. About 1,300 staff have yet to receive their shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s not clear if some teachers will decide to not go to class next week.

“That is unknown,” Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz told CBS 58. “I think what happens over the course of the next couple of days will really inform how people feel about going back to school on Monday.”

Racine County remains in the high community transmission category according to the CDC. But the same agency says schools in communities in that category can still return to in-person learning.

Cruz said educators want more communication and information from district administrators so they have a better idea of what the logistical plans will be for day-to-day classroom instruction.

“It’s just layers of concern that are compounding not just the anxieties of staff, but also of parents in putting their children in these settings as well,” Cruz said.

Meanwhile, some parents are ready to send their children back.

“The time has finally come and we’re very excited,” Eric VanDyke said.

VanDyke pulled his second grade son out of a RUSD school and into a private school after he noticed his son was struggling with virtual learning. His fourth grade daughter stayed with her RUSD school and is planning on returning to school for in-person learning.

While VanDyke looks forward to the return, he’s concerned about the potential loss of learning progress for his daughter.

“Seeing my son, how much he progressed by going back in person, leads me to believe that as a whole, the district is falling way behind its peers outside of Racine Unified,” VanDyke said.

VanDyke said he wants the district to conduct testing to see where students are in their learning and if they are behind or on pace with where they are supposed to be in relation to their grade.

On Monday March 1, pre-k and grades 5, 6, 9 and 12 return to class. A second group of grades begin on March 8 while the last group begins March 15.

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