Community groups demand action to prevent virus spread, protect health and education

    Teacher wearing a face shield in class in COVID-19
    Teaching in a faceshield. By young shanahan (Screen grab from a classroom in Slovakia.) CC BY 2.0

    A group of community organizations in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee and Madison teachers’ unions called for more action from Wisconsin’s leaders to protect health and education in Wisconsin. 

    The coalition demanded that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) move education online in all of Wisconsin’s public and private schools, colleges and universities as the state is currently dealing with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases. 

    “We cannot rely on individuals to make good decisions in a pandemic,” Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, said. “It requires a systemic response. This is why we have government, it’s why we pay taxes, it’s why we have elections. We call on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to do their job and protect Wisconsinites. Protect our students. Protect our educators. Protect our families.”

    The demand comes with a number of other conditions that would increase access to services and attempt to prevent further spread of the virus across the state.

    “Schools should not be open in the midst of uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 because it is unsafe for students, their families, and for public school employees,” the statement says. “It is also just bad public health policy.”

    The statement was released jointly by Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA), Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), Voces de la Frontera, Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), Parents for Public Schools (PPS) Milwaukee, Schools and Communities United (SCU), the Working Families Party and Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

    “Federal, state, and local governments have failed to control the spread of COVID-19,” it continues. “Political leaders have prioritized reopening the economy, including restaurants and bars, and have struck down public safety measures designed to keep us safe. We have seen enough.”

    The groups also call for expanded testing and contact tracing capabilities to help control the spread of the virus as well as clearer guidelines for metrics and gating criteria so people can understand what needs to happen to get the virus under control. 

    In addition to virus containment measures, the groups called for assistance with obstacles created by virtual learning outside of the virus. 

    The demand included a call for the city and county of Milwaukee to provide electric and internet service to all families and more mental health support for marginalized groups within Milwaukee Public Schools. 

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    Wisconsin’s ability to impose guidelines on people to help prevent further spread of the virus has been severely limited since the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order in May. 

    Even local governments that had imposed their own restrictions have now lifted some of them. The group called for Milwaukee to put those rules back into place. 

    “Return to earlier restrictions that had slowed the spread of the virus, including stricter restrictions on restaurants and bars,” the statement says. “If we value schools and educating our students, society must prioritize them.”

    Even as the caseload has increased across the state, Republican officials and conservative organizations have attacked measures to prevent infection — including Evers’ statewide mandate to wear masks.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.