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Kenosha School Board approves move to virtual learning over holidays

Posted at 6:01 PM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 23:26:24-05

KENOSHA — The Kenosha Unified School District Board has voted to move classes to 100 percent virtual instruction, in face of surging coronavirus cases.

TMJ4's Tom Durian reports that virtual learning will be held Nov. 30 - Jan. 8. Teachers will be allowed to work from home.

Winter Sports is also suspended through Jan. 3.

The vote comes after a Kenosha teachers union filed a class action grievance against the Kenosha Unified School District, alleging the district has not done enough to keep people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic and further demanding the district switch to 100 percent virtual learning over the holiday season.

The Kenosha Education Association argued in a statement Tuesday that the school district has not issued or enforced adequate COVID-19 safety protocols. KEA cites 300 reported violations and concerns regarding COVID-19 safety in the district. The union adds over 200 educators have signed the grievance against the school district.

A class action grievance is a complaint alleging a union's collective bargaining agreement has been violated, and that the violation impacts a large number of the union's members.

The union says it filed an official complaint with the Kenosha County Health Department in October, calling inspectors to investigate current health and safety conditions of school buildings. KEA alleges the school district then recently issued a statement "that ignores the recommendations of KCHD to close schools until January."

On Nov. 10, Kenosha County's health director, Dr. Jen Freiheit, urged but did not require that the school district move all classes online during the holiday season. Last week, school district officials released their 'Return 2020' plan, signaling its position that classes will be taught both in-person and virtually for the time being.

The Kenosha Unified School District board planned to discuss their 'Return 2020' plan at a meeting Tuesday evening. The KEA said its members attended the meeting to testify in favor of the health department's recommendation that all classes switch to virtual learning.

The KEA continued in its statement Tuesday that last July, school district board president, Tom Duncan, said he was not in favor of returning to in-person teaching, citing the surge in coronavirus cases. But Duncan and the school board later rescinded the decision in August, and voted to approve a hybrid model beginning in mid-September, according to the KEA.

A Kenosha school district spokesperson released the following in an email to TMJ4 News Tuesday evening, before the vote: "The district has heard from an abundance of individuals since last week's letter was sent, both supporting and opposing what was shared. It is extremely evident from the feedback received that we have divided views among our staff, parents/guardians, and community. As a result, the Return 2020 plan is on tonight's agenda not only for Board discussion, but also possible action."

According to the 'Return 2020' plan, the following indicators may trigger a transition to 100 percent virtual learning for the school district:

  • Positive cases increase 3 percent in a span of 14 days. This percentage is based on the cumulative total of in-person staff and student COVID-19 positive cases, divided by the total in-person staff and student population.
  • Community outbreak: A significant community outbreak is occurring or has recently occurred (large community event or local employer) and is impacting multiple staff, students, and families served by the community such that the KCDH directs KUSD to close buildings.
  • Staff absences: Staff absences, due to individuals personally testing positive or being required to self-quarantine as a close contact, reach a level that has the potential to compromise the safety or fidelity of the learning environment.

But the KEA argues the time for full virtual learning has already arrived.

"We can debate the merits of virtual versus in-person instruction, but this is about people’s lives and KUSD has an obligation to provide educators and students with a safe teaching and learning environment," said Tanya Kitts-Lewinski, President of the Kenosha Education Association, in the statement.

"Based on safety reports submitted by educators, the District is unwilling and/or incapable of implementing procedures to limit spread in Kenosha schools, and consequently, the community. Flagrantly ignoring the recommendations of the Kenosha County Health Department is reckless, irresponsible, and puts our entire community in danger," according to Kitts-Lewinski.

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