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'They didn't give anyone a chance': Private school parents react to latest executive order

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MADISON, Wis. – Families from private schools throughout Dane County say they’re upset with the County’s decision to mandate online learning for all students 3-12 grade to begin the school year.

“I was mad, I was I really mad. They didn’t give anyone a chance,” said Sarah Gonnering, who has children at both St. John the Baptist and St. Ambrose. “When we have done so much to meet their expectations and meet the criteria they’ve come up with, to not even give teachers a chance to educate their kids, it just doesn’t seem fair.”

While many districts in Dane County had already decided to begin the year online, schools like St. Ambrose were taking increased precautions to open for in person learning.

“We invested in a second facility for our junior high,” said Angela Hineline, a parent and instructor at St. Ambrose. “That way, we would have only 66 students here, socially distanced and then our junior high students would be in another location on Old Sauk road with 49 students.”

Hineline says with this precaution taken, social distancing would easily be achieved in classes for St. Ambrose students.

“We felt that we would be able to keep our students safe, we would be able to keep our students socially distanced at all times,” she said.

Hineline says her biggest concerns are what the late pivot to online learning could mean for students with special needs, or what it will mean for families who are already struggling financially.

Others argue that private schools have naturally smaller class sizes, which don’t pose as large of a risk.

“We’ve been working so hard for the last six months to figure out all the aspects that are going to make school the safest for our students and our staff and teachers,” said Heidi Kellihan, who sends her children to Edgewood Campus School. “Legislators have had six months to figure out what to do with our schools.”

Healthcare professionals Cindy Carlsson and Kari Hegeman also spoke against mandatory online learning. Hegeman, who is a pediatric physician, says online learning cannot be sustained for such an extended period of time.

“Our principal had been attending meetings with Dane County Public Health twice a week,” Hegeman, who sends her children to Blessed Sacrament, said. “Together with the school families, teachers and administration at blessed sacrament we were really trying to get proper safety protocols in place.”

“In pediatrics, we know what kids are harmed, families are harmed without in person instruction,” she said. “We’re seeing more accidental and non-accidental trauma, we’re seeing more anxiety and depression, and their education is harmed.”

“We all want good health for our communities, we all want to protect people from COVID, we all want our kids to get a good education,” Carlsson said. “We all want to see all the kids rise in this process.”