Madison School Administration Takes Unhealthy Stand On COVID, Students

This is one of those times when logic has been tossed so far afield one wonders if we have just read the story wrong. (But we have not.) The Madison School District seems most unsuited to make the weighty decisions for children and parents relating to the COVID pandemic.

Here is why we can make that statement.

Madison Metropolitan School District staff will not be required to roll up their sleeves and get the COVID-19 vaccine before the upcoming school year, district officials confirmed Tuesday.

MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds says neither vaccinations, nor regular COVID-19 testing, will be required of staff.

The announcement comes amid Dane County health officials ordering a new mask mandate Tuesday for all people ages 2 and older indoors. That order will go into effect on Thursday.

The first day of school for MMSD students is a little more than two weeks away.

How do I honestly comment and also not undo the family-friendly atmosphere on this blog? Let me give it a try, as this development is simply asinine.

The news from MMSD is breathtakingly stupid.

Last year school was virtual, and teachers, rightfully, balked at in-classroom sessions. BUT with vaccinations PROVEN to be effective….this news is an absurdity and places children who can not have shots in danger. To double down on the severely misguided policy there will not be a requirement for testing of the chuckleheads who fail to get vaccinated.

I have stated, repeatedly, that getting vaccinated should be considered an investment not only in one’s own personal health, but also with society’s health.  When one works with a vulnerable population, such as children who can not as of yet have the vaccine, means adults need to ACT LIKE ADULTS.

I am sure there were enough squishy-minded teachers and staff who pressed and demanded of the administration that their anti-vax stance was somehow of such high-mindedness that policy must bend to their unscientific views. That an entire school system would fold to the lowest common denominator alerts this blogger that there are legitimate reasons to fault the administration.

The next step is clear. The Madison School Board needs to step in and correct this health problem.

And so it goes.

How COVID-19 Spreads In Rural Wisconsin

This week I talked with a public school employee who had a rather stark response to my question of how long it was expected for that school to remain open once it commences classes next week.

Without hesitation, the response was right to the point.

“Two weeks”.

Today as I looked at my home county newspaper and it was once again apparent the medically prescribed safeguards requested so to stem the spread of the virus are not being practiced by many people.

The first photo that struck my attention was one with the caption which started, “Plainfield’s Tri-County students are seen waiting for the bus to arrive….  There are ten people and two masks.  And the saddest statement is the ‘adult’ in the middle of the photo seeming to be blissfully unaware.

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“All ages swarmed around….” was the second phto that alerted me regarding an event to raise money for local concern.  Not a mask on anyone.

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Then I saw this reminder online today about how people can help spread the infection with friends and strangers alike over several days this weekend.

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Too many of our medical professionals work long hours and endure huge amounts of stress so to do their part to keep the public as healthy as possible. Many citizens statewide have played their part in staying closer to home, wearing a mask, and self-distancing.  Then there is a huge swath of the state that seems wedded to the idea they can act in any fashion they desire and not care one iota for the well-being of anyone—not even themselves.

This is truly a damning indictment on the caliber and fiber of too many of our fellow state residents.

New Madison School Superintendent Undermined

There was a congressman who came from a rather low rung on the ladder of life.  His education was limited.  He did not possess the good looks for a politician, and reports are that his voice was high-pitched.  He even lost a U.S. Senate election, which seemed to auger ill for any further expectations of holding elected office.  But that same man, when given a chance to show his leadership skills, put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation.

That is how life often proceeds.  More often than we realize.

I found it truly sad to read the coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal about the verbal attack on incoming Madison School District Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez.  A group of leaders among the local black community penned a letter lamenting the school board’s decision in not naming their choice for the open position.

The group called the process the school board used for the final selection as ‘flawed’.  But in reading the article the reason for the backlash from the signees of the letter revolves around a desire to have a superintendent with more experience with larger school districts, and more cultural diversity.  There seems to be no evidence that all the finalists for superintendent were not treated the same, allowed access to the public,  or that outside groups were not provided opportunities to pose questions.

To call the process out after the fact, based on an outcome that runs counter to the desires of any group, is unseemly.  It very well might be that the process ran perfectly, but some of the candidates were flawed. The evidence regarding the other two finalists, as best as one can gleam due to the non-disclosure agreements they hide behind,  does not place either one of them in a positive light.

Which takes us back to Gutierrez.  Having now publically taken a smear at his hiring a vocal segment of the city has started his tenure in Madison in a most unfortunate rut.   If there had been a desire for education standards to rise, graduation rates to increase, and public faith in the school system to be enhanced it would have been more intelligent and professional for the letter writers to have linked arms with the one now selected.

Pragmatism is often forgotten by those who press forward with their agendas.  That is once again the case in Madison.  What is sad in this case, too, are the headwinds that Gutierrez now must walk into as he takes on the role we all want him to succeed at for our schools and students.  The needless disruption, after the process concluded, says more about the ones who signed their names to the letter, than the one they are dismissive of.

I am hoping for a Lincoln moment.  We all should.

Madison School Kids Make Us Proud!

I can not express how super pleased I am with again being able to comment on local students who made our schools, and their parents, look mighty good.  It was a timely reminder this weekend that much of the student population works hard, and has the encouragement of their parents to strive even higher.

We know that parenting can be a struggle, just as mastering the basics at school can be a climb for many students.  So when the circle of success shines from the home environment to the school classroom, and back again, we have reason to call it out for attention.

I know at the age of 9 to let’s say 14, there was no way for me to stand in front of others with composure and do anything.  Let alone be challenged by 44 others my age to spell words that many adults would not be able to pronounce or define.

Yet Saturday in Madison 45 truly smart kids participated in the All-City Spelling Bee.  And did so for three hours!

Matthew Brock, 14, an eighth-grader at Toki Middle School was the winner.  He spelled “euphonious,” correctly and sealed his victory by doing the same with “dolomite”. 

But it was not the word Brock spelled correctly that warmed my heart as much as what he had to to say to the press afterward.

“I read a lot and I practiced the study list,” he said. “Every time I see a word I don’t know, I look up the definition and try to understand whatever the context may be.”

His parents can be mighty proud.  As can all the parents of these young people.  It shows what happens when parents place books and words, and also the value of education, in front of their children on a continuous basis.  It not only makes students the winners but our city and society, too.

I especially want to call out attention to the second-place finisher, Vincent Bautista.  I do not know him but just feel most compelled to offer congratulations for a second-place finish.  At 9 years of age, he gives encouragement to all about what can be accomplished.  I am suspecting next year we’re going to hear a lot more from him.

And let me add my applause to Hamilton Middle School seventh-grader Grace Huang, 12, who took third place.

And a nice greeting to the other 42 who made the whole city smile and clap.  You are all amazing.

Brock will now move on to the Badger State Spelling Bee, scheduled for March 7 in Mitby Theater. The state champion will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee held in May in National Harbor, Maryland.

Keep on the path you are taking!

Madison School Board Needs Diversity–Just Anyone With Common Sense

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The Madison School Board needs to find a more diverse board.  Not in terms of ethnicity.  But in terms of common sense.

I was most embarrassed when my favorite daily read, The New York Times, had to report this morning on the happenings at Madison West High School.  I am never pleased when the city where I live, and which I love, has news of this type which everyone is talking about.

Even Cher!  Yes, her!

Many residents of this city are stupefied at what happened this week.  A black security guard at West High School said he was defending himself from a student who called him the N-word, repeating the word as he told the student not to use the slur, which led to his termination.

This story is so ridiculous that any book editor would scold a writer from creating such dribble.  But what passes for outlandish to everyone else is a policy at Madison schools. The matter of being too pure has once again met the reality test.  And the whole city gets tarred in the process by those looking in at us.

The purity test, such as with language, is never a good idea. It just always underscores the lack of awareness about an issue in an attempt to ram-rod rigidity into a code of conduct.  When an employee of the school district used the ‘n’ word in an attempt to create a teaching moment with a student who had hurled all sorts of words, including the ‘n; word, the hand of the all-knowing code of conduct fell hard.

As this now national story underscores there is a problem at Madison Schools.  This school board is out of touch.  With their zeal to be so strident against racism and inequities, they have also thrown out common sense, logic, and reason.

They have, however, reaped the scorn of just about everyone who has read this act of stupidity, which now has a legal angle that will doubtless arrive and be costly.   That is fine with me as stupidity should cost money from those who need to learn a lesson.  Otherwise, as Sheldon might say, “How will they learn?”

Late today the Wisconsin State Journal posted their story about Cher coming to the rescue with fiancing for the lawsuit.

As West High School students walked out of school Friday to protest the firing of a black Madison security guard for using the N-word to correct a student, the former employee got a major boost from an unexpected corner.

Celebrity dynamo Cher sent a tweet to her 3.7 million followers Friday offering to pay the legal expenses for Marlon Anderson, who was fired Wednesday for the incident earlier this month.

I wonder if others in this city now think perhaps a vote for David Blaska for the board this past April would have been a good idea.  I supported his bid and know my vote was the correct one.

Now more than ever.

‘N” Word At Local School, Lack Of Reason From Madison Schools

It goes without saying that the ‘n’ word should not be used in a derogatory way in our public schools.  Frankly, it should not be used as a derogatory manner in society at large.  But having said that the news this week from Madison Schools is not logical or reasoned.

A black security guard at West High School said he was defending himself from a student who called him the N-word last week, repeating the word as he told the student not to use the slur, which led to his termination Wednesday.

Marlon Anderson said he no longer works for the Madison School District after 11 years because of his response to a disruptive student calling him a “flurry” of variations of the N-word. But Madison School District officials say there is a zero-tolerance approach to employees using racial slurs.

Today, with warming conditions and sunshine galore, African-American high school students are doing the correct thing.  They are making a public statement with a march to the school district’s main building, that the over-reach in school language policy must not be tolerated.  After all, the guard was making an attempt at a learning moment with the person who hurled the offensive word.

Madison Schools has bound language to the extent that a person was fired for using the word in an instructive way.  That borders on incredulous. 

On Wednesday afternoon, West High Principal Karen Boran sent an email to families about a “serious incident” that involved “a staff member using a racial slur with students.”

“As you know, our expectation when it comes to racial slurs has been very clear,” Boran said. “Regardless of context or circumstance, racial slurs are not acceptable in our schools.”

Over the years I have had conversations with teachers who are not pleased with the straitjacket placed on them when it comes to word usage in the schools.  One history teacher told me it was not possible to present a full view of certain periods in our past with such limitations.  Another teacher informed me that the topic of words, and the blow-back from school administration, is a constant internal conversation among employees.

I want the teachers union to fight like hell to make sure the guard at the school is reinstated with back pay.  We see all too often on the local level some have a zeal for purity in all things.  Even when common-sense and reason clearly demonstrates such purity to be absolutely wrong.

Over the 13 years that this blog has operated I have opined on the use of the ‘n’ word in schools, but usually in the context of literature and history.  I have strong feelings that words should not be whitewashed from great texts such as with Huckleberry Finn.  I cringe as the 1884 book is now being published without the word ‘nigger’.  In its place will be the more sterile word ‘slave’.  I find this censorship highly troubling.

The mentality of the Madison School Board and kindred folks nationwide seem to think themselves to be better wordsmiths than Twain.  That we would allow teaching moments from texts to be removed is wrong.  Racism was and remains a real and troubling part of our society.  To attempt to whitewash it from a text takes away the one thing that we need more than anything else.  That being a protracted and highly engaged conversation about racism.  The actions of our local school administration this week makes that most evident. 

Even after the many decades of work and public policy aimed to construct our society to be more equal we are still limited from a real dialogue on racism.  If we can not get over the mere usage of the word ‘nigger’ in an instructive way by a school employee how can we move to a higher level of awareness in our communities or legislatures when confronting racism?

And so it goes.

Wisconsin Schools And Cursive Writing

I hear from family and friends alike that fewer young people sent hand-written notes of thanks or greetings about a holiday or birthday.  What once was a common occurrence is now a rarity.  One of the reasons that such notes are not placed in an envelope to a grandparent or uncle is that too few of our school students have the ability to write in cursive style.

Too few schools think it a good use of time and resources to push cursive given the keyboard world in which we live.  I, however, differ with that trend.  As such I am glad there is a pushback over the lack of teaching cursive writing.  I was delighted to read in the Wisconsin State Journal of an effort in our state to remedy the problem.

Republican lawmakers who head up both of the Legislature’s education committees are sponsoring a bill, which has some bipartisan support, that would mandate children in traditional public schools, independent charters and private schools participating in the state’s voucher programs be taught cursive writing in the elementary grades.

The reason I feel strongly about this matter is due to the historic documents and first-hand accounts that any good student needs to deal with in order to analyze our past. Think about the long letters of politics and love shared between John and Abigail Adams.  These historical documents should make us all yearn for the wonderful flow of the pen, and the glory of putting thoughts to paper.

The intimacy and poignancy of the letters are still breathtaking after these couple of centuries since they were written.  The skill of the pen and fluid nature of their conversations–in cursive— makes the reader aware of the powerful minds and intellects that allowed this nation to be created.   There is no doubt that without a willful woman named Abigail there could not have been the self-assured and forward-thinking John.  The two were a team. They should be known by these letters.

But if one can not now write in cursive one can not read the amazing Adams’s letters, either.  What a loss!

Studies are proving when young person’s hands are writing out notes in curvise there is a stronger association for learning and memory. This increased brain activity may be why students who are proficient at cursive—proficient enough to take notes by hand in a college classroom—do better on tests than their peers who took notes on a computer, as determined by a 2014 joint UCLA and Princeton study.  Cursive also allows better outcomes on standardized tests, like the ACT.  The reason is cursive allows you to write a thought down faster.  In higher education, and certainly in the work world, that is a huge benefit.

Several years ago in The New Yorker a columnist opined on what is lost when letters are no longer a central way to pass along thoughts to family and friends.  Since letters of this type are written in cursive the article seems timely in light of the efforts being taken in our statehouse. And with my fondness for the stories of our past.

If we stop writing letters, who will keep our history or dare venture upon a biography? George Washington, Oscar Wilde, T. E. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Vera Nabokov, J. P. Morgan—if any of these vivid predecessors still belong to us in some fragmented private way, it’s because of their letters or diaries (which are letters to ourselves) or thanks to some strong biography built on a ledge of letters. Twenty years ago, many of us got a whole new sense of the Civil War while watching and listening to Ken Burns’s nine-part television documentary, which took its poignant tone from the recital of Union and Confederate soldiers’ letters home. G.I.s in the Second World War wrote home on fold-over V-Mail sheets. Troops in Afghanistan and, until lately, Iraq keep up by Skype and Facebook, and in some sense are not away at all.

Students should be expected to read diaries, journals, letters of their loved ones and original historical documents throughout their education.  To achieve that end they must be schooled in cursive writing.

Let us again have a generation who knows not only what “Put your John Hancock on it” means, but also can actually do it!

Taxpayers On Hook Locally For Gun Violence

There is hardly a day that our newspapers, radio, or television news is not reporting on a gun shooting in our city, county, or state.   Obviously, the most important part of the stories is the deaths or injuries that result in gun violence.  But underneath all the news about guns in our society is the far too-often unmentioned costs of this issue on taxpayers.

Madison is currently working on shaping a new budget where, as always, the revenues are stretched tight.  Many programs cry out for more dollars, only to be told they must work with current amounts.  This is why a budget amendment before the Finance Committee late last month caught my attention.

The committee voted to add $75,000 to fund design costs for updating the lighting under the Monona Terrace on John Nolan Drive.  Downtown alderman Mike Verveer said, and correctly so, that the amendment for the funds (#14) was driven by the shooting that took place in that location following the Shake the Lake fireworks.

Granted, the amount of the amendment was rather paltry when considering the entire budget.  But that money could have been used in some local programs where a real difference would have benefited the city.  But due to the rising need for local units of government to respond to gun violence the money will be appropriated for safety in an area now proven to need it.

But all such upgrades are not so cheap.  In fact, they can be widly expensive.  The New Verona High School which will open in 2020 is one such example.  

The design for the new school already underwent some changes after parents, students and staff raised concerns in the wake of the February shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The amount of glass was reduced slightly. But in some cases, a covering designed like a barn door can be slipped across windows to block them.

Where it made the most sense, classrooms were designed so that they sandwich a middle room that has no windows to the exterior hallway, Gorrell said. Students from the outer rooms can go into the inner room in an emergency situation. In other cases, classrooms have two exits.

The building also is designed so sections can be cordoned off denying access to large areas. Eliminating the K-wing where some students eat lunch and some classes are held will increase the security.

Citizens can become numb to the continual episodes of gun violence being reported, and in some ways consider this to be the new normal.  Such reactions can be understood at some level, but that then allows for real solutions not to be pressed hard enough with those elected officials who have the power to make changes.

But if gun violence can be considered as an additional cost to hard-working taxpayers it might be an effective way to nudge more citizens to demand accountability from their legislators. The Giffords Law Center, which compiles data on gun violence in states, reports that the direct annual cost of gun violence to Wisconsin taxpayers is over $177 million.

They state that including healthcare costs ($46 million per year), law enforcement and criminal justice expenses ($58 million per year), costs to employers ($6 million per year), and lost income ($927 million per year), the initial price tag of gun violence in Wisconsin
is over $1 billion per year. Much of this tab is picked up by the public. Up to 85% of gunshot victims, for example, are either uninsured or on some form of publicly funded insurance. 

More ideas will emerge as to ways local officials can work at constructing safety measures in our communities to ward off gun violence.  While those are laudable goals it begs the question as to why more citizens do not just demand a solution for the root cause of the violence.

And so it goes.