MADISON - The ACLU of Wisconsin today called on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to ensure that all students have equal access to quality education amid the pandemic.
The ACLU sent a letter to the Superintendent of DPI, reminding her of the legal responsibility to provide equitable education, even under the difficult circumstances the pandemic has created. In particular, DPI must ensure that school districts across Wisconsin do not leave behind the most vulnerable children - especially children of color, children who are economically disadvantaged, children with disabilities, English Language Learners and others.
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has radically changed how schools in the United States operate, leading to wide discrepancies in access to education, as well as disparate educational experiences among students.
The letter urges DPI officials to meaningfully address technological barriers to remote learning, institute policies and practices that mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on school grounds, offer mental and emotional support services to students, and combat racist scapegoating.
Online learning is not a straightforward option for many children in Wisconsin, particularly for those from marginalized communities. One third of the state’s school districts report that at least a quarter of their students have insufficient internet access, a hardship in which students of color disproportionately endure. Remote learning also poses challenges for students with disabilities and those not fluent in English, as accommodations they would normally receive may be less readily available in a virtual environment.
“This pandemic is one of the worst crises we’ve faced, but it doesn’t absolve the state and local districts from their moral and legal duty to afford every student the opportunity to receive a quality education,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin schools must equip all Wisconsin students with the tools necessary for online learning, and schools that do allow in-person options need to provide personal protective gear to students, create space for social distancing, and take other safety precautions. Given the added stress and uncertainty of living through a pandemic, we must also make mental and emotional well being a top priority, accommodating the various additional challenges students may be navigating outside of school. We recognize that schools are facing a great deal of turbulence in this moment, but if we do not remain firmly committed to promoting equity in our schools, all students, particularly the ones most vulnerable, will suffer.”
In April, the ACLU of Wisconsin wrote a letter urging the Department of Public Instruction to address the digital divide and its impact on remote learning.