Families March in Support of School Re-opening

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By: 
Cameron Bren
Roughly 50 students, parents and community members Marched from Middleton High School to the school district administration building calling for the district to re-open school buildings for all students starting second semester.

MIDDLETON–Parents and students took to streets on Dec. 21 calling for the school district to implement in-person learning for students in all grade levels beginning at the start of the second semester. About 50 people gathered at Middleton High School (MHS) and marched to the district administration building on South St. hours before the board voted on implementing a blended instruction model for all students.

An organizer of the march and parent of a student at MHS, Joel Moyer, said families want a commitment from the board that the district will implement in-person learning as soon as possible. Moyer says he supports getting kids back in schools even if that means only partially in a virtual/in-person blended instruction model, which the school district did approve for grades 4K-2 beginning Feb. 1.

The district’s plan sets target dates to phase in higher grades through March. Moyer said instead of a phased in approach he would like all grade levels to start at the beginning of the second semester. 

“There isn’t any proven track record that phased in approach would be a safer approach,” Moyer says. “Each of the schools in Middleton has their own resources and staff in order to be able to phase in at their own building and we believe that it would be in students’ best interest to do that sooner than later.”

Moyer points to the numerous schools around the state that have either remained open through the pandemic or reopened with a blended model. He says they have had to have temporary closures when a COVID-19 case occurs but there is no evidence of mass spread within the schools. 

“Of course, if the pandemic gets worse, we’re not recommending to put peoples’ health of life in jeopardy, we’re just trying to plan for moving forward and if things change you change your plan,” Moyer stated. “But the contingency plan has already been in place. If it all needs to be cancelled because the caseload is too high then that can be done, but if the case load continues to drop then we should have a plan to return to in-person classes.”

Moyer said health officials on the local and national level have changed their guidance based on the data so the district should too. He notes President-elect Joe Biden supports students returning to schools.

Moyer said his son is privileged to have a sister in college that can tutor him.

“Our biggest concern are the disadvantaged families that don’t have resources because parents and siblings are working, so they are either not attending or they’re attending class, but they are not doing well,” Moyer says. “They are not receiving the resources they would normally get from the school; counseling, guidance, meals that they normally would receive each day. They are having to pull those out of their own pocket which they didn’t before, and they are not getting the direction and guidance and leadership from their teachers, coaches and other activities they may participate in.”

Parent and march organizer Angela Rachidi sent a letter to the school board with more than 200 signatures in support of reopening with a blended model. The letter requests that the school board: direct the superintendent to develop a plan with a timeline that gives the option for all grades to return to in person instruction by the end of February 2021; direct the superintendent to work with Public Health Madison Dane County to revise guidance around distancing that allows a full day, full week return to school for all grades; return to the policy of allowing parents to publicly comment at board meetings.

Since the start of the pandemic the school board moved to holding meetings virtually and has not allowed members of the public to join the meetings effectively barring real-time comments during the public comment period. Comments must be submitted by email and are summarized by the board president and posted in-full on the district website.

The Times-Tribune contacted Attorney James Friedman at Wisconsin Newspaper Association legal resources in regard to whether the board was violating open meeting laws. 

Friedman said that the school does not have to allow live public comment and the public only has the right to access to the meetings live. 

Perry Hibner, communication director for Middleton Cross Plains Area School District, said the school received legal guidance on the matter through the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), who advised that broadcasting the meetings on the school YouTube channel as they occurred was sufficient in satisfying open record laws. 

Friedman said that no legal precedent has been set for virtual meetings, but that so long as the YouTube link is live, this “probably satisfies” open record laws.

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