President of Kenosha Education Association (KEA) to School Board: ‘The reckless disregard for safety must stop’

“My name is Tanya Kitts-Lewinski and I am a proud special education teacher and President of the Kenosha Education Association. This week, KUSD experienced a surge in educator absences, causing several schools to pivot to virtual instruction to protect the safety of students and our community. Kenosha isn’t unique. Schools across Wisconsin and America are in the same dangerous and untenable situation.

Educators in Kenosha and everywhere want nothing more than to be with their students. But it is utterly unsafe to do so at this time. Rather than receiving the same encouragement and support as other essential workers in our community, we have been blamed for nearly every single thing that has gone wrong throughout this global health crisis. Schools closed, blame the teachers. Taking necessary precautions to keep students and coworkers safe, blame the teachers.

Educators are exhausted from bearing the brunt of this pandemic and from being forced to enter unsafe buildings that put our students, themselves, and the community at risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19. Not only does KUSD’s Return 2020 Plan guarantee further spread of the virus, being forced to simultaneously provide virtual and in-person instruction is prohibitive to providing a high-quality and equitable education for anyone. No one is benefiting from this setup.

Every Kenosha educator is dedicated to our students and has the utmost concern for their health, well-being, and academic success, but we have to be alive and healthy to serve them. Within the first week of in-person instruction in KUSD, there have been several positive cases causing a number of students and staff to quarantine. There are reports that there have been positive cases at Indian Trail, Tremper, Lakeview, Prairie Lane, Bullen, Strange, and Washington. DHS released a reopening school buildings risk assessment tool to assist in making decisions about reopening school buildings during the pandemic.

If the answer to any of the questions on the tool is “no,” school buildings should not be reopening until you can answer “yes.” To date, there have been 159 violations cited by educators based on categories from the tool, with reports coming in from 23 different buildings. This reckless disregard for safety must stop, and this school board has the power to put the brakes on.COVID-19 has no barriers and, as individuals who are in constant contact with students for hours at a time, we have an obligation to ensure we are not unknowingly spreading the virus to our students or to our families, which is why we are encouraging all educators to go get COVID tested at the end of this week.

It is the responsible and prudent thing to do while in the midst of a pandemic. Like everyone else, we wish there was not a pandemic, but the reality is that Kenosha has a high infection rate as defined by DHS. It is clear that in-person instruction will further contribute to community spread and will have harmful, and potentially fatal, consequences for students, educators and families. Public safety must be prioritized over personal opinions. Our students, staff, families, and community need and deserve better.

– Testimony before the KUSD School Board, 9/22/20

#SafetyFirst #notonedeath #standwithkenoshateachers

Photo: Joe Brusky

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