Wisconsin teachers' unions demand all schools shift to virtual learning, call on DHS to issue order

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As the numbers of COVID-19 case and hospitalizations continue to trend in the wrong direction, teachers unions from across Wisconsin say face-to-face learning is not safe.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association joined teachers' unions from Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay and Madison in calling for a complete shift to virtual education in Wisconsin. At a news conference, they demanded that Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm order that all K-12 schools, colleges and universities switch to virtual instruction.

"We're here this afternoon calling on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to do their job and prevent Wisconsinites, protect our students, protect our educators, protect our families," said MTEA President Amy Mizialko.

She also noted that Thursday, Oct. 1, will mark two weeks since the death of Heidi Hussli, the first Wisconsin public school teacher to die of COVID-19. She taught in the Howard-Suamico School District in northeastern Wisconsin.

In a statement, MTEA and other community groups in the Milwaukee area said Milwaukee Public Schools has taken the important step of starting the school year virtually, but that's not the case for all districts and it should be. They said local, state and national governments have failed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"While the Legislature and Supreme Court have stood in way of larger sensible actions, like the Safer at Home order, Secretary Palm still has the power to close schools to slow the spread," said Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers, Inc.

Before Milwaukee schools can reopen for in-person learning, community groups said they want to see 21 days in a row with a downward trajectory of cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates in Milwaukee County.

"You have seen state governments say over and over again that Wisconsinites should refrain from gathering in groups. Going to school for face-to-face instruction is gathering a large group," Mizialko said.

The demands from the unions come the same month as students at two Marquette University dorms, Schroeder Hall and Cobeen Hall, have had to quarantine.

During a news conference Wednesday, grad students and faculty members who make up the Marquette Academic Workers Union said the university's current COVID-19 plan isn't working.

"As each particular residence hall closes down, we see examples again and again of how it is unsafe and how it puts people in jeopardy, including students, staff and faculty," said Sarah Kizuk, a Marquette research assistant and member of the union.

The union stopped short of calling for virtual instruction university-wide but said its previous demands of university leadership had been that instructors be able to choose the mode in which they teach.

"It does seem like as things progress, online instruction could be a good alternative. At this point, it's not entirely clear. One thing that is clear is that the current plan is unsafe," Kizuk said.

CBS 58 reached out to DHS for comment about the unions' demands but has not heard back.

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