State Superintendent pushes for more restrictions

A recent memo from State Superintendent Jill Underly to local school administrators pushes for increased covid-related restrictions including a return to masking. 

The memo comes on the heels of the latest variant ‘Omicron” indicating that Underly, Evers and other elected officials are in no hurry to remove long-term lockdowns and restore a bit of our freedoms.  The DPI memo appears to circumvent parents and local elected school boards in an effort to pressure school administrators. 

Underly and health officials also seem to ignore widely reported data showing that students have significantly less risk of illness from Covid and that deaths among school-aged children are extremely rare.  More likely, Underly is taking marching orders from Wisconsin’s largest teachers union that recently called for universal vaccines for teachers and masking for all. 

The December 20th memo from Underly reads:

Dear District Administrators,

I am writing today with an important message. We must do what’s best for kids – during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. What’s best for kids is that they are in school. And that is only possible if they are healthy and alive.

Keeping our kids healthy is how we keep our educators healthy, our families healthy, our communities healthy, and our health care system able to care for us in times of need. Keeping our kids healthy is how we keep our students learning. We all know the importance of meeting students’ basic needs; for example, we know that students need to be well fed to be able to engage in their learning, and that is why we have school nutrition programs. This is no different. There is no more fundamental basic need than being healthy and alive. Our students must be protected from COVID-19.

To protect them, you must institute layered protection strategies in your schools. If students are sick, they need to be sent home. We’ve known that is best practice for ages, and it’s not unique to COVID-19, but it’s more important than ever today. Students, teachers, school staff, and all visitors to school buildings need to wear a mask. Students and staff who have COVID-19 or are close contacts must follow quarantine guidelines, and they must have access to an education during this time.

This is how we keep our children and educators healthy and alive, our schools and communities safe, and our students learning.

Thank you for your leadership on this issue.


Jill K. Underly, PhD State Superintendent

The DPI’s recommendation also seems to defy one of the biggest issues facing schools, the glaring correlation between virtual learning and lagging test scores.  In particular, already faltering Milwaukee area schools have dropped even further behind due to constant covid-related lockdowns. 

Among many studies on the topic, a recent December 6th Wall Street Journal editorial board story highlights the discrepancy in learning:

“The researchers—from Brown University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and MIT—examine the relationship between in-person learning and third- through eighth-grade student scores in 12 states. They found that the share of students who scored “proficient” or above declined in spring 2021 compared to previous years by an average of 14.2 percentage points in math and 6.3 percentage points in language arts.

What’s more, “these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction,” the authors note. For example, they found that “offering full in-person instruction rather than fully hybrid or virtual instruction reduces test score losses in math by 10.1 percentage points (on the base of 14.2 percentage points).”

Parents should take note of any top-down efforts to restrict local control of our schools, particularly when state and federal dollars are attached.  With covid vaccines readily available to those who choose, courageous local school boards and administrators should be applauded for listening to parents and students, following the science and data in their communities and resuming in-person learning and activities while allowing those who choose to wear mask the option to do so without one-size-fits-all restrictions.