City Forward Collective CEO Patricia Hoben says safe, in-person instruction in Milwaukee schools is possible, but admits COVID-19 testing availability is inadequate.

City Forward Collective is a group aiming to eliminate educational inequity. Hoben addressed concerns about reopening schools at a Milwaukee Rotary Club meeting that was held both in-person and virtually.  

According to Hoben, the teacher-student dynamic provided through in-person instruction cannot be replicated in a virtual schooling environment. She claimed state and city reopening guidance is sufficient for allowing students to physically return to campuses, but some Wisconsin schools are already hitting COVID-19 roadblocks. 

Brodhead High School in southern Wisconsin announced a temporary switch to virtual learning Monday amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t think there is enough testing available,” Hoben said when asked if schools are equipped to contain possible COVID-19 outbreaks among students and staff.

Hoben touted an eight-page school reopening checklist she said was modeled after reopening guidance issued to restaurants and bars. The checklist, Hoben said, includes COVID-19 testing guidance, but schools are not required to test their students and staff.

“I don’t know of a school that doesn’t plan to reopen safely,” Hoben said. “I don’t know of a school that doesn’t have parents who want to send their kids back and want to send their kids back now. But I think that we have to give schools time to navigate.”

Some parents have publicly voiced concerns over COVID-19 outbreaks as schools reopen, but last week, others protested against a Dane County order restricting in-person instruction. 

Hoben also discussed the digital divide among students: some families are unable to pay for high-speed wireless internet and tutors, while others work jobs during online instruction hours and rely on childcare services. 

Hoben initially suggested childcare workers should be trained to aid kids with online instruction. But then she backtracked, saying childcare staff should not have to function as teachers and noting that childcare facilities do not have to provide internet access.

For students unable to attend classes in-person, Hoben said, online learning may be beneficial because a student who “doesn’t feel like engaging” during normal school hours can choose when to complete an online curriculum.

-By Ashley Obuljen

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