Wauwatosa students are in school two days, with three days of virtual school.

Unlike many of its suburban peers, the Wauwatosa School District is still not open to in-person schooling five days a week. If we don’t speak up soon it’s almost a guarantee that Tosa students will be left behind until the fall of 2021 at the earliest.

The decision to keep kids at home the majority of the school week has little to do with the number of COVID cases among students and staff in the district, which remain quite low, and more to do with a staffing problem that the school board itself created. 

Most school districts began the school year with two options for students: a traditional in-person education (some with a hybrid or phased-in introduction), and a virtual model.

The Wauwatosa School Board, however, went on its own and created a third option, something they call Tosa Connected. Unlike the existing Wauwatosa Virtual Academy, where students seeking a non-traditional pathway to learning could participate in online classes taught by teachers from around the state, the school board’s Tosa Connected option only uses teachers from Wauwatosa schools. The result is a staffing shortage for the school district that has made life incredibly difficult for our many hard-working teachers and a return to a traditional five day a week in-person education nearly impossible.

To make matters worse, the school board made a commitment to parents that Tosa Connected will continue through the end of the school year regardless of how many parents opt back into a traditional model at some point during the year. This doubling down on the part of the board means, if only a handful of children remain in the Tosa Connected model, the staffing shortage will not go away.

It effectively eliminates any hope of our kids getting the education they deserve, and the one our taxpayers are supporting. It also unfairly pits family against family depending upon which model you chose for your kids. 

Further compounding this tough situation is Wauwatosa’s divisive political landscape. I have personally spoken to parents who are hesitant to speak up and put their names on emails to the school board or post their support for in-person education on social media for fear of the push back that will surely follow.

Supporting your child’s education is not a political statement, nor is it a commentary on the realities of COVID-19. Nine months ago, it was simply common sense. Today it’s just another issue where the battle lines have been drawn.

The school board has a series of critical meetings in the coming weeks that will determine the district’s future. The board has an opportunity to take corrective action to either eliminate the Tosa Connected model and guide willing parents to select the pre-existing Wauwatosa Virtual Academy, or the board can significantly restructure Tosa Connected to free up the remaining teachers for in-person instruction to put more students back into the classroom where they belong. 

If parents don’t speak up now and force the board to take action, Wauwatosa students will have zero chance of being in school five days a week and will fall significantly behind their peers in neighboring districts. That would be a disaster for the education and development of many students, and a black mark on the school board members and district leadership that they alone will own.

Shawn Lundie is a Wauwatosa resident and parent of a student in the Wauwatosa School District.