Today’s caravan protest placed an emphasis on health, both mental and physical, during the COVID-19 pandemic and as a nationwide debate over racial justice unfolds. Protesters taped signs decrying the state’s response to COVID-19 and the use of police in public schools on their cars.
Madison West High School teacher Shawn Matson says that the state’s lack of leadership has left Wisconsin’s teachers and students in a precarious position since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We have a failure of leadership in this state, where our state legislature has refused to show up for the people of this state, much less the children and the teachers, who are being faced with having to go back to school,” he says.
Matson says that the issue of safely reopening schools isn’t just about public safety, it’s also a matter of equity for disenfranchised students.
“The longer our school systems are defunded and not provided with the resources they need, the least privileged students are going to lose out, and the most privileged students are going to cling onto their privileges.”
Kevin Cunningham, another one of today’s demonstrators, echoed Mattson’s concern over reopening the state’s schools without a coordinated, statewide plan.
“I think sending teachers and students to school without a good plan in place is ultimately going to harm everybody and spread COVID around more. It’s just science,” he says.
Nada Elmikashfi, one of seven candidates running for incumbent Fred Rissers’s seat in the state Senate, says that the state’s lack of a coordinated school reopening effort will only further hurt its teachers and students.
“I know that our leaders must show up for our educators, their families and children as this pandemic continues without an end in sight,” she says. “Our leaders have failed to deliver.”
Governor Evers has declined to issue statewide standards for reopening schools. At a press conference last Thursday, the Governor said that standardizing reopening processes across the state’s more than 420 school districts would be impractical.
“I have been following decision making in our schools, and I think they’re going about it appropriately. I really don’t have any plan to standardize it,” Evers said. “There are school districts where their buildings are very, very old and the idea that they’re going to find enough room to adjust class sizes in an older building, that’s pretty damn tough.”
While the Governor has pushed back on mandatory school reopening policies, the Department of Public Instruction has issued recommended reopening guidelines for Wisconsin’s schools
The Madison school district plans to start its fall semester with online-only education. The district announced that a day after MTI, the local teacher’s union, demanded an all-virtual start to the school year.
According to Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore, the union’s demands did not impact the district’s decision.
“The facts are, this was not a decision made in one day in response to an article, it was the culmination of countless hours of rigorous work.”
After their protest at the Capitol Square, the caravan spread out through different areas of downtown. One group drove around outside the Dane County public safety building on Doty Street, honking in protest.