By Shereen Siewert

A Wausau parent held a news conference Wednesday demanding the Wausau School Board and administration schedule an in-person meeting to reopen schools for in-person classes.

In a news release, Jon Creisher said 409 signatures were collected in less than 48 hours petitioning the board to schedule the in-person meeting. Creisher alerted the media Wednesday afternoon to the news conference, held in front of the Longfellow Administration Center.

“We have requested that this meeting be assembled in person with open public comments,” the release states. “We have requested that this meeting be held before the next regular board meeting scheduled for September 14th.”

But school officials say they already accept public comment for consideration and post emails received from citizens openly on the internet for public viewing. Public comments from the Aug. 24 meeting, for example, are posted at this link. While many letters are from frustrated parents, the list also includes emails from multiple local doctors applauding the district’s cautious approach to reopening.

Creisher is requesting the board and administration provide a response either accepting or denying his public meeting request by Friday, Sept. 4.

“Should the board deny this request for a special meeting by the electors within this district they will further cement their disregard for the well-being and education of Wausau’s schoolchildren and their unwillingness to listen to taxpaying Wausau School District parents whose children are needlessly suffering because schools have not been reopened,” Creisher wrote.”

In his news release, Creisher refers to a state statute that requires special meetings in some circumstances. But Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker, citing two legal opinions, said the statute Creisher lists in his release applies to district meetings, not school board meetings, and would not apply in this situation.

Further, per the statute cited, there is no authority to determine the way in which school opens or modality of instruction, said Zunker, who is also a candidate for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional district.

In his release Creisher is also sharply critical of local media, which he accuses of overlooking the “apparent fact that all other surrounding Marathon County School districts…have managed to execute successful plans for reopening their schools.”

Districts around the state have been grappling with how best to safely open this fall in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, school officials in Wausau confirmed that a staff member at John Marshall Elementary School tested positive for the virus. In the D.C. Everest district, a staffer at Hatley Elementary tested positive last week.

Opinion statewide remains divided on whether schools should reopen fully this fall. The most recent Marquette Law School Poll, conducted in early August, found voters largely split on the issue. According to the poll, 45 percent of respondents said they feel comfortable letting students return to school in the fall and 48 percent say they are uncomfortable with reopening schools. Among those with school age children at home, 53 percent are comfortable and 45 percent are uncomfortable.

Zunker said the meeting process in the district changed when the pandemic hit. The board continues to meet virtually to reduce the spread of contagion in the community, she added.

“We know there are some parents frustrated with the decision to start the 2020-2021 school year virtually,” Zunker said. “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.”