Student Views on the Wauwatosa School Board Decision

Lucy Hildebrand and Vivienne Andersen

STUDENT BODY DIVIDED – A unique and unusually hostile discourse developed among students on social media on Monday in anticipation of the School Board Decision to return to the 5 day a week instruction model. Student advocacy, for and against the shift, boiled over before the decision was even made.


Opposition to the proposed change came first, with several students using their Instagram and Snapchat platforms to voice their health and safety concerns. Wauwatosa East Junior Isabel Margerie was disappointed with the district for considering going back to full in-person classes.


“The fact that the Wauwatosa School District is willing to sacrifice student and staff safety for five day in-person instruction is concerning and immoral. Tosa schools need to put the health and safety of their educators and students over community opinions,” Margerie said.


Over ten of her fellow students showed up to hold signs up outside the Fisher Building ahead of the meeting. One student held a sign that read “Protect the Teachers and Students”.


Not all students held the same beliefs. Wauwatosa East Junior Maddie Bartz posted infographics on her instagram story, seemingly in response. The infographics showed student attendance rates in both Phase Into Learning and Tosa Connected Models, as well as examples of low infection rates at in-person Elmbrook schools.


“All of this information is completely public,” Bartz wrote. “Data is showing that the community is spreading the virus, not schools,”


A number of Bartz’s peers reposted her story, sharing in her belief that the shift to complete in-person learning would cause greater benefits than detriments.


Predictions of how a shift to the new model would affect community and district disease burdens were discussed at the School Board Meeting on Monday. Unfortunately, the general consensus was that there are a lot of unknowns. Although, the number of students forced to quarantine is expected to double as a result of decreased physical distancing.


Tensions between students rose to a boiling point on Monday evening in the comment section under The Tosa Compass’ post covering the protest outside the Fisher Building. Very quickly, the commonly united and civil student body exploded.


Many students left passionate remarks regarding their own mental health, the vulnerability of their loved ones, and even ableism and privilege.


The two sides seem to be split between some students holding dropping grades, higher fail rates, mental health struggles, and disengagement above the possibility of infecting more teachers, students, and family members that could suffer from the symptoms of the virus. With the pressure on high school students to get high grades and mental health issues on the rise, it’s not surprising that students are desperate to get back to learning in a sustainable environment. 


Another portion of students are looking through the lens of physical health. Tosa East Junior Aidan Jones spoke up during the meeting about how she and many of her peers experience a lot of anxiety about everyone going back to school. Many students have concerns about lunch, and Jones said she would rather eat alone in the theater basement than socialize with her friends, because it would feel uncomfortable and unsafe to sit in a crowded room with less distance between students. 


It’s difficult to say how a post concerning a simple and relatively small protest garnered over 80 comments from students and community members alike, but it is safe to say that this issue – and the high profile school board meeting – generated vigorous discussion among the student body that left it feeling more polarized and divisive than before. Some students, including Wauwatosa East Junior Claire Nistler, feel that heated discourse like that which we saw unfolding on Monday is healthy.


“To all the East students speaking out against five days a week – I’m so proud of all of you for speaking up, it shows how Gen Z is taking a stand for what’s best for our society. I’m so proud of all of you, you guys said everything I was thinking,” Nistler said on her Snapchat story.


Ultimately, the School Board decided to push back the return to five days per week until April 5th. This is further along than was recommended before the meeting.


Not every student has as strong views as Nistler, Bartz and Margerie. Many witnessed the whirlwind of heated discussion quietly from the shadows, taking in the very firm arguments and views of their peers. After all, it’s not everyday that a school board meeting dominates discussions among the student body. Wauwatosa East Sophomore Greta Krueger stepped back from the whirlwind of developing information and drama to gain a little perspective.


“It’s crazy that this is somthing we even have to worry about. In any other year, we all would have been worrying about picking classes for the next year, not trying to decide our personal stance on whether or not we should return to a five day school week,” Krueger said.


The passionate discussion that developed early this week is certainly a sign of the times – and of an increasingly more vocal youth demographic. It’s unclear if future school board decisions will attract as much attention as the one regarding a return to the five day a week model, but it is certain that this one threw the student body into unprecedented active division and outrage.