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School teachers from across the state protest for a virtual fall semester
School teachers from across the state protest for a virtual fall semester
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COVID-19 | PUBLIC EDUCATION

School teachers from across the state protest for a virtual fall semester

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Protesters from four of Wisconsin’s largest cities gathered Monday in a National Day of Resistance caravan to demand that legislators and superintendents make the fall 2020 academic semester completely virtual.

Educator unions, community organizations and advocates from Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine traveled to the Capitol, the state Department of Public Instruction and the state Department of Health Services.

“We have districts marching teachers and students into an unsafe position in which teachers and students are likely to contract COVID,” said Angelina Cruz, president of Racine Educators United. “It is unsafe, because our schools are not fully funded in a way that can address all of the safety concerns we have.”

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The caravan, which started in Kenosha, traveled through Racine and Milwaukee before arriving in Madison about 1 p.m. Teacher unions from Beaver Dam, Cudahy, Greendale, Middleton, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee and St. Francis also joined the effort to push for virtual school in the fall.

Similar marches and caravans calling for safe schools took place in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Organizers of the Wisconsin caravan wrote a letter July 20 to Gov. Tony Evers, Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford Taylor and Secretary of Health Services Andrea Palm, detailing their dissatisfaction with the state’s resources and social distancing practices in schools.

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The growing COVID-19 outbreak has some teachers fearing for their lives, organizers said.

A Milwaukee attorney is offering free wills to teachers returning to classrooms in the fall, noted Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, president of the Kenosha Education Association and co-organizer of the protests. “Educators are afraid, to say the least,” she said.

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“There’s been pushes throughout history for change and we are at a moment right now where it could go many different ways, but we need to see more equity in this country,” said Asia Safriwe, a college student protester and daughter of an educator.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on minorities, organizers noted, with Blacks accounting for 15% of cases and 22% of deaths and Latinos making up 24% of cases and 12% of deaths. Each group represents just under 7% of Wisconsin residents.

The educators also called for increased federal support to help students access the internet and obtain counseling and food.

“We are concerned about tens of thousands of students in rural locations, in cities, as well as suburban locations that have inefficient internet connectivity,” said Amy Mizialko, president of Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. “It is long past time that the federal government needs to provide immediate relief to students and public schools so that we can resume some normalcy, but until there is a serious response around this pandemic we cannot.”

Added Mizialko: “We are all saying together that not on our watch will we have students and public school educators be infected with an out-of-control pandemic and virus.”

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