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Health officer, teacher union representative weigh in on teaching in-person

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 6:20 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Bay Port high school teacher’s death has led to some concerns over the risk of in-person schooling.

“What it highlights is that this can happen to anyone, anytime,” said Brown County Public Health Officer Anna Destree.

Bay Port High School teacher Heidi Hussli died after being briefly hospitalized with COVID-19 according to the Howard-Suamico District superintendent.

It is unclear how she contracted the virus, but Destree says they’ve noticed an uptick in cases overall.

“If people have not taken our guidance or recommendations seriously we are strongly encouraging you do so now, because we are seeing this recent growth and there is no sign of slowing down,” said Destree.

But Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Regional Representative Kristin Lytie says concern over teacher safety has been present from the start of the school year.

“If you are teaching in a district that is face-to-face and you have a pre-existing condition don’t wait until it’s too late. Demand an accommodation, your safety needs to be a priority,” said Lytie.

She believes virtual schooling is the safest option for teachers but says many won’t demand virtual schooling out of fear over parent response.

“We don’t want parents pulling their kids out to take them to private schools who will go face-to-face because essentially parents depend on public education for their childcare so they can go to work,” said Lytie.

Destree says the health department has worked closely with schools in the area to make in-person learning as safe as possible.

“I do feel that the schools are taking steps to do the best that they can for their students and their teachers,” said Destree.

In fact, health officials noticed that when schools did come up with safe alternatives for things like graduation or prom, some parents would undermine it.

“Then the parents would go and schedule something, an event and pull those kids together anyway, and sometimes we’d see cases from those,” said Destree.

They hope people will take precautions more seriously after the tragedy of Hussli’s death.

“I feel like a lot of people in our community weren’t taking this seriously and hopefully with what happened in Howard-Suamico people will feel the gravity of that and start to really take these precautions seriously for one another,” said Lytie. “I hope they really value the relationship children have with their educators and realize teachers are not expendable.”

“We have got to band together as a community to stop the spread of the virus,” said Destree. “To continue to social distance, to wear the mask, and the most critical [thing] has got to be if somebody is sick to stay home.”

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