UPDATED: Wausau school enrollment declines as group gathers petition to reconsider opening schools

School petition

B.C. Kowalski

School petition

A parent group gathered at Longfellow Administration Building Wednesday say they have turned in enough signatures to request an in person meeting of the Wausau School Board to revisit the issue of whether to open schools in person.

Members of a parents group gathered enough signatures for a petition asking for the Wausau School Board to hold a special meeting to reconsider opening its schools, as fall enrollments in the district have significantly declined compared to 2019, according to school administration.

Jon Creisher, who helped organize the group, says they have gathered 409 signatures in less than 48 hours to request a special meeting to reconsider the reopening.

The school board in July voted to open virtually, the only school district in the area to do so. Wausau’s district is also the largest in Marathon County. The state’s five largest school districts also elected to open virtually.

Roughly two dozen parents and family gathered at the Longfellow Administration Building early Wednesday evening to make the announcement. According to Creisher, the meeting must be held by next week, in person and the public must be allowed to speak. The group is seeking an approval or denial of its request by Friday. “Denying our request will further demonstrate the unwillingness of this board and administration to listen to the tax-paying citizens of this district,” Creisher said Wednesday.

Some members of the group Wednesday claimed the district was losing students to other neighboring districts. Although Hilts says enrollments fluctuate quite a bit during the first three weeks of the school year, “preliminary enrollment numbers appear to be down significantly for the start of the 2020 school year,” Wausau School District Administrator Keith Hilts told City Pages.

Enrollment totals can affect state funding down the road.

An additional claim made by a member of the group, that the district had not yet implemented safety procedures recommended by the Department of Public Instruction, appears not to be true. Hilts told City Pages that the school has implemented those recommendations, including installing plexiglass in all school offices “and other spaces where close contact is difficult to avoid,” Hilts told City Pages. 

Hilts says specific enrollment numbers would be available the third week of school, when there is less fluctuation and administration will have a more accurate count of the data.

Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker says the petition is invalid because the statute calls for a special meeting of the School District, not the school board.

In response to citizen concern about voices from parents not being heard, Zunker says the meetings were held virtually in order to prevent the spread of contagion. ” We know there are some parents frustrated with the decision to start the 2020-2021 school year virtually,” Zunker said in a statement to City Pages. “We want everyone physically back in the classroom. However, our goal throughout this entire process has been to protect the health and safety of our students and staff from COVID-19.  With the number of cases increasing, we feel starting virtually is the safest option for students, staff, and community.  As we monitor the number of cases in our community, please know that we will re-evaluate the decision every month.”