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'This has not been an easy decision': Mixed reaction after Racine orders schools to close amid COVID-19 surge

Posted at 10:25 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 23:25:06-05

CITY OF RACINE — Racine’s Public Health Department is ordering school buildings to close due to a spike in community spread of COVID-19. The city’s new public health order forces virtual learning for all Racine schools starting the day after Thanksgiving through Jan. 15.

Racine’s public health administrator said the city is seeing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic. Since schools are often the largest gathering places in the community, Racine students and staff will soon be required to learn and teach from home.

A vast majority of public school students within the Racine Unified School District have been learning from home all school year.

“Every day I’ve got to hear my kids saying, ‘when am I going back to school’ this and that, you know, I have no answers for them,” said Efrain Rivera.

Rivera was hoping his three kids would be able to return to the classroom soon so he can go back to work. He’s frustrated that won’t happen until at least mid-January.

“I’m at home 24/7 with them I mean, it took away my whole life,” he said.

Several private schools including Racine Lutheran High School have continued with in-person learning.

“These private school parents are going to be very mad,” said Tessa Swanks.

The city’s new health order means private school buildings will have to close on Nov. 27 as well.

“This order today was a surprise,” said Racine Lutheran High School Principal David Burgess. “We have given great effort to cooperate with the safety recommendations from the city and have had open communication with them since last March.”

“This has not been an easy decision,” said Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox.

Bowersox said closing school buildings is necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus after a week of 680 cases in Racine.

“With this increase of 40 percent positivity, larger numbers than we’ve seen since the spring, we need to take action,” she said.

Bowersox worries cases will only climb with upcoming holiday gatherings.

“Over the last nine months, after every significant holiday, we’ve seen a spike in cases,” she said. “This holiday season, obviously we’ve got three holidays back to back.”

Racine's teachers' union praised the decision on Thursday. Public school teachers and staff have been instructing virtual learning inside school classrooms. The new public health order means they’ll get to teach from home.

“We are relieved that people are not being put in harm’s way unnecessarily,” said Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz.

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