Capitol Update
by Senator Howard Marklein
July 10, 2020


Back To School?


One of the biggest questions on many parents’ minds right now is whether or not their children will be going back to school this fall. I have heard from dozens of parents, school district staff and community leaders who feel strongly that schools fully re-open for in-person learning this fall. They want our kids to get back to a routine. They want our kids to catch up. They want our kids back in school five days a week.
In response to these contacts, I have reached out to many of the school district superintendents and administrators in the 17th Senate District. Many of the 34 districts I represent have surveyed parents and consulted with their county public health departments, attorneys and each other. They have reviewed the Wisconsin Department of Public Instructions (DPI’s) 87 page “considerations” document and have read recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Ultimately, the decision for if and how our kids go back to school will be made by each individual school district. The “considerations” issued by the DPI are not binding or required. There is no “law” or regulation that forces schools to take any sort of particular action.
That is why it is incredibly important for parents and community members to communicate directly with the school districts that serve their children. You must share your input, concerns and ideas. It is imperative that you connect with school district administrators and the school boards that represent you. Many of our local districts will be making decisions within the next two weeks, so do not put this off.
School districts are weighing many different factors in making this decision. They are considering where there is a risk to gathering children. They are concerned about the teachers, faculty and staff who will interact with your children and the general public. They are worried about visitors to the building, cleaning processes, lunch times, transportation, liability and co-curricular activities.
As school districts make decisions, they are soliciting input from all sides. County Public Health Departments are offering a myriad of opinions from delaying the school start date until January 2021 to limiting classrooms to 10 kids. The DPI has offered a variety of options for different instructional models, none of which include 5-day in-person school, and scheduling models including blended in-person and virtual combinations as well as having half of the children attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half attending school on Thursdays and Fridays with Wednesday being a “cleaning” day.  Click here to read my summary of the DPI’s “considerations”.
In addition, the American Academy of Pediatricians released a recommendation that said “the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The AAP says that the mental health and developmental health of our children is at serious risk and the threat of COVID-19 to those 0-19 is so minimal that we need to prioritize mental and developmental health.
The AAP also highlighted that research is showing that children are not at risk of transmitting the disease like we once thought. The recommendation said, “Policy makers must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in transmission of the infection. SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza... Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”
Even as the media is attempting to drive a narrative of fear regarding rising case counts and the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is important to remember that the case count does not necessarily correlate to hospitalizations, deaths or even symptoms. As a nation, we knew that the number of positive cases would increase as our businesses and communities re-opened. But we also knew our hospital capacities and readiness.
The vast majority of positive tests are in the 20-29 year old age range. But the majority of hospitalizations and deaths, nationwide, are in the 60+ age ranges and they are not increasing at the same rate as positive testing. Rising “cases” are not corresponding to hospitalizations and deaths.
I have also heard from those who are concerned about returning to school full-time in the fall. Some are concerned that going back to school will facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. Some are concerned that teachers in “high-risk” categories will not come back to teach if schools re-open in-person. If these concerns ring true for you, it is important to note that if parents do not want to send their children to in-person school, they do not have to. There are a number of online, virtual school options that are part of the public school system and are open to parents right now. We do not need to force our brick-and-mortar public schools to recreate and add a wheel that already exists in Wisconsin with a proven track record.
If we consider the facts, we need to be honest that the vast majority of our children are not at risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. However, they are at risk of significant mental and developmental issues if they are not in school, with peers and experiencing co-curricular activities. We must be realistic and honest with ourselves and again determine whether the facts justify – or relieve – our fear.
Again, it is extremely important for parents to communicate directly with their school districts. Please consider reaching out directly to your superintendents and school board members to provide input on how you would like to see the next school year unfold. If you need assistance locating the contact information for your district, please contact my team and we will be happy to help you.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703.