A local parent has filed a federal lawsuit against the Waukesha School District, claiming that the school board’s lack of COVID-19 mitigation protocols were responsible for her son’s exposure and contraction of the virus.
The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 5 by attorney Frederick Melms on behalf of Shannon Jensen and Waukesha School District parents and students. The lawsuit is seeking an injunction ordering the district to adopt COVID-19 protocols compliant with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. This would include a mask requirement, which was eliminated by the school prior to the 2021-22 academic year.
According to the lawsuit, Jensen’s oldest son was exposed to COVID-19 by an unmasked classmate at Rose Glen Elementary. After showing symptoms of the virus, her son tested positive, with her two younger children also catching the virus during home quarantine. All three kids missed multiple days of school and their extracurriculars.
Jensen claimed she received delayed notice from the district about her son’s exposure to COVID-19, only learning later from another parent that four children in her son’s class tested positive for COVID-19. She explained that the school was only informing parents of positive cases through “blanket” notifications without definitive quarantine or contract tracing processes.
The Daily Cardinal reached out to the Waukesha School district for comment on the lawsuit. The district confirmed they had been served, but said they were not currently in a position to provide a public comment.
The Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC is funding the Waukesha lawsuit as part of their mission to organize a class-action lawsuit against all Wisconsin school districts without extensive virus protections for students and teachers.
“Wisconsin communities have exploded with the delta variant because many school districts have dropped all forms of Covid mitigation that were in place last year,” said Kirk Bangstad, owner and founder of Minocqua Brewing Company. “Unless we organize now, we might not have enough power come election time to stave off the lunacy.”
Fort Atkinson, Wisc. reinstated their own COVID-19 protocols when a middle school student who tested positive for the virus died last month.
13-year old Danny Rees had been experiencing cold-like symptoms and resting at home for two days when he suddenly stopped breathing. It was only during emergency resuscitation attempts that his family discovered he had COVID-19.
Fort Atkinson School District implemented a district mask mandate two days after Rees’ death. Local parent Jan Johnstone argued that the child’s death should not influence the school board’s decision. She compared the incident to her childhood next-door neighbor’s death in a biking accident.
“We didn’t all stop riding bikes,” said Johnstone. “We have to prepare children for life. Part of life is death. We have to get over this.”
Other parents argued that the school district had not done enough to protect students.
“Every time I drop my daughter off at school, I pray she doesn’t see the fear in my eyes from the thought of having to leave her where I don’t feel she is safe,” said Jennifer Slack, whose oldest daughter started kindergarten this fall. She went on to explain she had recently withdrawn her daughter from school due to the lack of COVID-19 protections and the recent spike in delta variant cases.
The debate in Fort Atkinson represents a larger national trend of school board meetings becoming battlegrounds for intense political debates about COVID-19 policies. Earlier this month, Wisconsin passed 8,000 COVID-19 deaths. Despite some improvement since then, every county in the state remains at a “Very High” or “Extremely High” risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The effects of the pandemic have been felt firsthand by Danny Rees' mother Tammy, who started a GoFundMe page to cover her son's funeral expenses.
“As we are trying to deal with this devastating loss, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge of the expenses that our family faces in the near future,” reads Rees’ GoFundMe page. “Losing a child, especially one as happy and precious as Danny, is more than any mother and family should have to experience.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.