According to Court Documents, Children Went Without As Teacher Protests Closed Schools in February
By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service
When school districts around Wisconsin were forced to close in February due to teacher sickouts, tens of thousands of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, were left wanting.
There are more than 116,000 students on free and reduced lunch among 41 of the districts that staged sickouts in February, according to DPI records. Madison, alone, has over 12,000 students on free and reduced lunch. The district was closed for four days.
“The District believes that such students are being irreparably harmed by the strike,” Dan Nerad, Madison Schools Superintendent, said in a court filing on February 18th after his district had been closed for three days. “The missed meals which are not being received by such students as a consequence of the strike may never be made up, to the detriment of such students.”
John Matthews, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director, told Nerad in an email that week, teachers were staging the sickout for the benefit of the district’s children.
“What teachers are doing is based on their own conscience, for education, the children in our schools, for their own families,” Matthews said.
Milwaukee Public Schools were closed on February 18th when its teachers staged a sickout. The district says it has 66,900 students on free and reduced lunch.
“I have no knowledge of arrangements our families would have had to make when they did not have access to our schools that day,” said Roseann St. Aubin, MPS spokesperson. “Superintendent Thornton did communicate with employees at frequent intervals during February to urge them to remain focused on their tasks in the schools.”
After the sickouts in Madison had gone on for three days, district administrators decided to try to get food to its needy students.
“Food, which would have otherwise gone bad due to the strike, is being made available to low-income students and their families at approximately 18 District schools and through a number of community centers and food pantries,” said Nerad. “These efforts, however, cannot make-up for the number of meals already missed nor can they guarantee that every student who may be going hungry during the strike is being served.”
Teachers unions in Wisconsin have long advocated for free and reduced lunch.
“Educators know that many students depend on their public schools for breakfast and lunch,” reads a March 2010 West Central Education Association newsletter. “For many students, school breakfast and lunch are their main meals of the day.”
|School District||Population||% Free and Reduced||Est. Students Free and Reduced*|
|De Forest Area||3249||22.7||738|
|Mount Horeb Area||2337||13.7||320|
|Saint Croix Falls||1134||40||454|
|Sun Prairie Area||6975||27.5||1918|
*This column was calculated using the enrollment figures and free and reduced percentages from DPI. Actual figures may differ slightly. For example, Madison says it actually has 12,071 on free and reduced, and Milwaukee says it has 66,900.