WISCONSIN — State lawmakers spent nearly seven hours on Wednesday listening to concerns from educators about schools reopening.
Among those who testified was Dr. Jeff Weiss, Superintendent of South Milwaukee School District. Dr. Weiss participated as part of the Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance.
"I understand there’s a need for schools to open up in the fall in order to fully restart the economy, but I also understand there’s no completely safe way to completely open schools as long as there’s no vaccine or treatment for the virus," said Dr. Weiss.
During a Milwaukee county update on Thursday, Dr. Ben Weston said reopening is a balancing act but he believes there is a safe way to start school again. He pointed to the Department of Public Instruction's recently released guidance on reopening schools. It includes information on cleaning procedures, learning scenarios that use in-person and virtual learning, and shortened school weeks to mitigate the risk of coronavirus.
"We never know where the next spike in COVID is going to be. It could be in a community that has experienced it or it could be a community that has had almost no COVID so far. I think it’s vital for every school to consider this and to take it into account," said Dr. Weston.
Another layer of concern schools face in the era of coronavirus is the potential for lawsuits.
"Since the schools are being asked to assume this risk to be able to reopen the economy. Our ask is that schools are not held liable for the transmission of COVID-19," Dr. Weiss told lawmakers.
Dan Rossmiller, Wisconsin Association of School Boards Government Relations Director, says other states are considering protections for school districts.
"We will follow that guidance to the best of our ability. But we don't want the danger of being second-guessed or sued over any little unintentional mistake that we make. We are trying our best to get everything back to normal and do it safely," said Rossmiller.
Rossmiller added that in a time when funds are tight, there is concern that liability insurance premiums and costs will go up.
Rossmiller says safety is the priority, and their organization is in talks about getting COVID protections for Wisconsin schools to limit their legal liability.