Wisconsin Has Roughly 6,900 Substitute Teachers. It's Not Enough During COVID, Say Officials
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Teachers say they know bullying when they see it, as President, DeVos, Tiffany and others attack public schools.

The leaders of two Wisconsin education organizations say threats by President Donald Trump to pull funding from schools that don’t resume full in-person instruction this fall would leave them without much-needed resources to protect students and teachers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Schools in Wisconsin and elsewhere across the United States will need more money, not less, to implement such pandemic-related measures as personal protective equipment and to address staffing needs as they resume classes, said Heather Dubois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. 

Threatening schools to reduce the money they receive “is a bully move” by the president, Dubois Bourenane told UpNorthNews, and endangers students and educators by forcing face-to-face instruction whether it’s safer or not. 

“It is reprehensible what the president did,” she said. “Now is not a time to give schools less money, at a time when they are facing a safety crisis.”

Trump criticized Centers of Disease Control guidelines for reopening schools, saying they are “very tough and expensive.” Federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also threatened to cut funding from schools that don’t resume full face-to-face instruction. And Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin’s newly elected Republican congressman in the 7th District, introduced legislation that would cut off schools’ federal funding if they do not reopen by Sept. 8.

Their threats come as school officials and parents across the country struggle with how to return to school safely while the number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin and the United States reach record high levels. 

The 754 new cases of the virus recorded Thursday in Wisconsin represent a new one-day high. The nation set a new record too, with 59,880 cases. More than 3.1 million people nationwide have been infected and more than 130,000 have died. 

Given the continued spread of the virus, schools must be especially careful about protecting students and staff, said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Educators across the state are devising multiple plans for returning to school that include both in-person and online learning options. 

Those plans try to allow for increased social distancing in schools, Martin said, and provide for numerous options in case in-person learning is not always possible. 

“What happens if students test positive for the virus, or if staff does?” he said. “You can’t just say that all schools must maintain in-person learning in those kinds of situations. It isn’t responsible.”

Ron “Duff” Martin speaks before union representatives at City Hall in Milwaukee. Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said if President Donald Trump follows through on comments to reduce funding to schools that don’t resume full in-person instruction in the fall, it would endanger the health of students and teachers. (Photo courtesy of Ron Martin)

Instead, Martin said, schools must be given the flexibility to “reopen in the ways that work best for them.” Dubois Bourenane agreed, saying the disparate situations school districts face necessitate different approaches to resuming classes. 

“What works in one school district isn’t necessarily going to work in another,” she said. 

Martin said Trump and DeVos have provided “very little guidance” for education during the pandemic and have failed to push Congress to provide the additional funding schools will need when they resume classes. In addition to protections against the spread of the virus, services will be needed for students to make up for lost learning when schools were shut down in March because of COVID-19, he said.

To provide that funding, Martin and Dubois Bourenane urged Congress to pass the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which includes money for schools related to COVID-19. The measure was approved by the Democratic-led House on May 15 but is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“If we’re going to force people to choose between public safety and the economy, let’s make sure we give schools the resources they need to (resume school) the best they can,” Dubois Bourenane said.