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Kenosha Schools Will Now Start The Year In Person, Bucking Trend

Unlike Appleton and Oak Creek Franklin, Board Members Opted To Move From Virtual To In-Person

children's school supplies
Due to the uncertainty of the upcoming school year, many are delaying back-to-school supply shopping this year. Steven Potter/WPR

Kenosha schools will start the school year with in-person classes, after the school board voted unanimously to overturn the initial virtual-start plan Tuesday evening.

The Kenosha Unified School District is bucking recent trends, which have seen more and more districts opt for virtual learning to start the year. Appleton area schools recently switched to a virtual start, after initially planning to start the school year in person, as did Oak Creek-Franklin schools.

Dozens of parents and high school students testified at the Tuesday night board meeting, nearly all in favor of at least offering an in-person option to students when school starts in September.

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Many cited the success of club sports and summer athletic training in bringing kids together without COVID-19 outbreaks as an indicator that schools, and their sports teams, could do the same.

“Sports and extracurriculars will give (kids) that much-needed socialization,” said Tina Lampe, the mother of a high school football player. “We argue that keeping students home is keeping them safe. I would argue that having them participate in athletics is keeping them safe.”

Other parents spoke about their kids’ mental health, saying they felt the mental health risks of isolation posed a greater risk to their kids, long-term, than contracting the disease.

Many addressed the board members with anger and frustration, saying five of the seven voted for a virtual-only option in July over the wishes of most parents who filled out school surveys that indicated a preference for in-person instruction. They urged the board to allow parents a choice in what risks they were comfortable with.

“Please honor parents’ choice and the results of the surveys we all completed,” said parent Teri Giampietro. “Please allow in-person learning in September, and please allow athletics throughout the school year — it is critical for our children’s mental health.”

Some suggested that if board members, school administrators or athletic departments were worried about being held responsible for COVID-19 cases contracted through the school, they could have parents sign waivers indemnifying the school against lawsuits.

Other community members talked about the difficulty of managing virtual learning while working.

“I’ve listened to board members say that they understand what parents are going through, but they truly do not. Have any of you had to have several conversations with your husband on who’s quitting a job, have any of you had conversations with your husband on who’s going to switch to a lower paying job or one without benefits? Probably not,” said parent Sandi Eidsor, fighting back tears. “If you have not cried because you know virtual learning is a big fail for special needs kids, for my special needs kids, you don’t understand.”

All seven members voted to switch to in-class learning for the fall, though parents will still be able to opt their child into virtual learning if they don’t feel comfortable sending them back to a classroom.

Board member Rebecca Stevens, though she voted with the rest to allow in-person classes, warned that that decision could change if Kenosha saw a spike in new cases after starting school.

“We don’t know what this virus can and can’t do, and no one that spoke or sent emails has enough information to tell me that,” she said. “It’s never happened before to us, it’s uncharted territory.”

Katherine Andrysiak-Montemurro, a third grade teacher and vice president of the Kenosha Education Association, was the lone person to testify in favor of keeping classes virtual to start the year.

“I would like to thank the majority of board members for putting the safety of students, their families and staff first when you chose a fully remote start to the school year (in July),” she said. “We must forge ahead through the understandable, but tragically misdirected anger of some individuals in order to do what is best for our community and our children — our school district and its educators are not the ones who failed to control the virus.”

Andrysiak-Montemurro said requiring parents to teach students in person would end up with an increased need for substitute teachers, as teachers may need to call out after potential exposure to the disease or COVID-19 symptoms while waiting on test results.

The vote means Kenosha schools will start in-person classes on Sept. 14, with “low-risk” sports like swimming and diving, cross country and tennis to start on Aug. 24 and “high risk” sports like football to start Sept. 7.