Madison School Board Should Follow Lead Of 76% Of Public Schools And Ban Cell Phones In Classrooms

I had a conversation with a schoolteacher in a Madison school last weekend.  We chatted about the changes in their health insurance, and how the pandemic impacted the learning path for some students. But it was the matter of cell phones which most animated the instructor to express concerns about the way they intrude on her classroom and distract her students.  What she told me was similar to the national conversation that is heard in news broadcasts and through social media.  Young people seem fixated on their gadgets, to the exclusion of learning in a classroom.

I have a very difficult time understanding how cell phones ever started to be allowed in a classroom, let alone being so much of a problem that it is “a constant battle” to have students put them away as the teacher told me.  I am continually surprised at how consumed young people are with their personal phones.  I say that since not a single one is dealing in stocks or making plans for international intrigue so one can fairly inquire what has them so captivated.  Granted, the same can be said for adults, too.  But children are still being shaped and molded and should not be allowed to drift off aimlessly into their hand-held devices.

The biggest distraction for me in school was Carol Lisak who had pretty eyes and would turn around in her seat and roll them at me as she made facial expressions, all in an effort to make me laugh. She found her mark every time and what confounds me to this day is that I got in trouble for laughing as opposed to her memorable antics.  I am well aware those types of classroom issues pale over what teachers now confront.

Following the conversation with the teacher, I spent some time online looking for a bit of data to show what can be done to curb the cell phone problem.  The stern approach of a teacher setting down the line which cannot be crossed, I am told, is just not reality in many classroom settings.  So, to bolster and support instructors school districts ranging from Colorado to Ohio to Maryland have placed a ban on these phones in class. The National Center for Education Statistics in 2020 reported that cell phone bans were in place in 76% of our nation’s schools. The problem with kids and phones is a worldwide topic. In September 2018, French lawmakers outlawed cellphone use for schoolchildren under the age of 15. In China, phones were banned country-wide for schoolchildren last year.

Madison must do the same.  I urge the school board to implement what candidate David Blaska urged in a race for the board in 2022. When addressing the matter in a forum he held up a paper grocery bag and said, “cell phones go in the bag and [students] can get them back afterwards.” First and foremost schools are the place to learn and grow and whatever impedes that mission must be dealt with. Education is too precious a commodity not to have it fully implemented. When teachers speak so forthrightly about the need to curb cell phones in the classroom the school board should heed the views of the educational professionals.

For the record, my husband and I do not own a cell phone.  James has a thriving guardianship business which is all conducted with our landline.  Yes, we have a flip phone for long vacations, or day trips that are placed in the car, but if you ask me to give the phone number for it, I would be a man who just missed getting a huge payday.  I live in a tech world with my podcasting but have no desire to be connected 24/7 on any device.  I know with certainty that a classroom setting which has so many avenues for distractions all on its own, should not be further burdened with cell phones at the desk of students.

Madison School Board Has Turtle-Like Pacing To Stem On-Going Violence

The Wisconsin State Journal reported a news story that both showed the dangers within classrooms at Madison Schools, while also underscoring the turtle-like process the Board is employing to deal with the violence.

Not for the first time does this blog ask for accountability from the Madison School Board. Given the makeup of the Board, it is not possible to inject the needed solutions to address the violence that concerns parents and creates fear and dread in students.

The paper noted the latest violence that took place Monday.

In the video taken Monday at East and later removed from Facebook, a student verbally confronts another student in a classroom before physically attacking the student, and eventually tackling the student onto a table, which subsequently buckles. Another person is seen in the video attempting to separate the two students, but it’s unclear whether the person who intervened is a student or staff member.

I am sure some gentle coaxing and soothing colors in a ‘time out’ room are all that will be required to bring this violence to an end. Right? Maybe throw in a pizza party, too!

Then the news article reported what is breaking news of sorts given the incredibly stodgy and arrogant way this Board has operated given the mounting examples of violence taking place on school grounds.

The board voted unanimously Monday evening to launch its student safety and wellness committee made up of community members, students, and staff five months after it was first discussed in the wake of multiple fights at East High.

I do hope the Board did not get dizzy from acting so quickly to form a committee. Deep breaths…..deep breaths after all that exertion.

But then true to form Board member and perhaps the weakest link in the chain of command on the Board, Ananda Mirilli, who will co-chair the ad hoc committee along with East student body president Gordon Allen, said board members are still submitting recommendations for committee members, and they’re still searching for students and support staff to take part.

I am not sure what the Board uses for the conveyance of messaging to interested parties, but if it is true that after five months Mirilli is still having board members “submitting recommendations for committee members” we might simply need to install a new dog sled team. I (truly) know of faster back and forth communication between small communities near Barrow, Alaska.

My first concern, as noted often on this blog in relation to this issue, is the needs of the students. First, obviously is safety. But a very close second is the desire of many students to have a well-rounded education so to capture the college of their choice upon graduation. Let us not forget most of the students in our schools wish to lead productive lives and make money with a good job.

Having even that small portion of the student body, however, with only low-brow brutish animal tendencies creating disruptions and utter chaos in the schools puts huge strains on teachers and students alike. It is not fair to the ones who wish to teach and learn. It is also not fair to the taxpayers who fund this district.

It is the last group which I very much believe this Board has forgotten about, over and over. It is pure arrogance for the Board to have pushed off the creation of this much-needed mechanism to deal with the growing violence in our schools. Whatever group this Board listens to, it clearly is not the ones who have pressed again and again for safety and sanity. Perhaps to get the attention of this Board parents just need to attend meetings and stand up, shout obscenities, and pound on the walls.

Because we know this Board is not listening to the polite well-articulated requests to stop the violence at our schools.

It is a lack of leadership and determination from this Board to address the violence in a timely fashion that was reported in this morning’s newspaper. Oh, do not worry if you missed Tuesday’s edition, because thanks to this Board more violence and news headlines are likely coming your way soon.

And so it goes.

Warning Not To Film Violence In Madison School, Bad PR For Administration

A reverse Potemkin village scenario is playing out at one Madison public school.

Instead of seeing something that is not really there, comes an interim principal telling students to not see or do anything about something that is really there.

Welcome to the latest upside-down world of Madison public schools.

East High School’s interim principal said students who filmed a fight between classes at school on Monday could face out-of-school suspension and she called the number of students who watched and filmed the incident “unacceptable.”

Police were called because of the fight between two students between periods 5 and 6 on Monday, interim Principal Mikki Smith said in an email to families. School officials are deciding what consequences the students should face, Smith said. Her email said first responders were also called as a precaution.

Smith added that any students who record and share video of fighting could face punishment up to out-of-school suspension.

Yes, by all means, control the information flow of violence that breaks out at Madison schools. After all, if we treat this behavior as just a PR issue it will go away!

I am stunned Smith sees the problem being the students who would record digitally the violence so that taxpayers who fund the schools could be made aware of what happens in the buildings. While the school is weighing what consequences the fighters could face, Smith was sure those who capture video could face up to an out-of-school suspension.

In this time when everyone everywhere films at will, how are the fights in schools now forbidden to be captured?  Is the real issue the filming of the fight or the fact there are just so many violent acts at Madison East to be filmed?

Perhaps, instead of berating students and threatening their education for filming the continued violence at East High, Smith should consider a film editing class so would-be journalists or videographers would have sharper skills. After all, they will have plenty of content from which to work.

If I sound snarky and peeved then you are reading this post correctly. At what point does the violence in our schools be taken seriously by the ones who sit in the administration or the school board?

Madison schools could simply get tough on the ones who continually disrupt our schools. Because no one, not even an interim principal should need to ponder “what consequences the students should face” when fighting occurs on school grounds.

That we ponder such things, and not have a strict policy in place, is the issue at hand. The problem is not the students who see pure chaos and reach for the camera to record it.

And so it goes.

P.S. Trusting Mikki Smith is not the best Madison East can find for leadership going forward.

Did Madison La Follette High School Students Protest Violent Beat Down Of Bullied Student?

I noticed in the news that a large group of La Follette High School students protested during classtime this week regarding Quadren Wilson. The man reports he was shot in the back five times by law enforcement during an arrest earlier this month.

He is currently incarcerated in the Dane County Jail on a probation violation with his first court date slated for today. While there has been a lack of information and transparency from several law enforcement agencies about the facts of the case, one does have to question how students at La Follette pick the topics that arouse action.

While the actions of law enforcement regarding Wilson took place miles from the school, and it prompted a protest, did not these same students see the bullying in their classrooms and hallways of Heather Colbert’s son? The bullying led to violence that resulted in the 15-year-old being beaten so badly he will require dental reconstructive surgery. 

Maybe the weather was too cold and winds too biting to stage a protest at the time. Or perhaps the bullying did not meet the high benchmark required to activate their social conscience.

When a student in their midst was being physically and emotionally harmed, to the point that he now talks of suicide, might that not have been a reason for his peers to have resolved to make a difference?

While I applaud young people being engaged in issues and voicing thoughts and ideas, it would be even better if they were more able to have organic actions rather than orchestrated ones where outside speakers were required on school grounds.

Does it not touch any of the students to know that one of their own, following the beating, has decided not to return to La Follette?

Well, not enough concern to stage a protest and get some attention for more stringent anti-bullying measures for the school district.

And do it goes.

Safer Madison Schools Reason To Write-In David Blaska For Seat 4 At April 5th Board Election

Every resident of Madison has a stake in our public schools. We probably know a student, teacher, coach, or school bus driver. Through those connections, we have a good view of the condition of our schools, a measure of the educational programs, and knowledge concerning the overall character of the students. There are reasons to be proud of the mission teachers take with their lives and we can be equally proud of graduates who have benefited from the educational system.

But we also are aware, from too frequent situations that make for headlines, of the violence and breakdown in social norms that occur at some of our city schools. We expect to see school buses near the curb of such buildings but should not consider it normal to see a number of police squad cars arrayed near a school so to break up fights and try to bring order from the chaos.

Most taxpayers take it for granted that schools should be learning centers that are safe for the students and staff. But they would be wrong if they thought this was actually the case in all of our city schools.

As we move toward the April 5th Spring Election in Wisconsin voters need to be aware of the most prominent issue facing the school district. That is the safety of kids, teachers, and staff. Not only is physical safety an issue, but the need for a calm learning environment in our schools so teaching can take place with learning to follow.

This issue demands more than just headlines after yet another fight or major altercation at a school. The school board needs someone who will highlight the issue and fight for the students who are nervous about heading to classes. Or teachers who are fearful to go to work on days when they have heard rumblings about a flare-up from some students.

Enter David Blaska.

Once again, Blaska is placing his name for consideration as a school board member. His write-in candidacy is for Seat 4, the one now held by Ali Muldrow. The race has drawn some attention, given the recent headlines.

Blaska correctly argues that a school resource police officer should be present in each main high school as a proven way to stop violence and keep classrooms and hallways safe for everyone. Muldrow was an advocate of removing those officers in 2019. Three years later she is now just considering the merits of convening a committee to study school safety. Might I state the United Nations is known to work faster?

We have seen the results of dithering and meandering on this issue. Riots at East High School and just off campus; guns at La Follette, awful violence at West High School. A brutal beating that left a 15-year-old with “three teeth in the front of his mouth that was actually jammed up into his gums”. Very high dental bills will result for the family and as his mother told a local news reporter, “He’s been very depressed. He has talked quite a bit about committing suicide”.

Might it be time for violent students to be held accountable for their actions?

Might it be time for one strong voice on the school board who will stand on behalf of the students and city residents who need to be heard and represented when it comes to outlandish behavior on school grounds?

I did not need very long to consider how to write this post after watching the Saturday night news report about this young man facing an outrageous and unconscionable situation simply because he attended school. Let me put this issue into somewhat of a personal narrative and bring it full circle as to why safety matters and Blaska’s election is warranted.

As a high school student, I was relentlessly bullied. My best friend committed suicide after being bullied. I dreaded school days, was stressed about everything, and though a bookish type of person did not excel academically. I know how it feels to be uneasy in a classroom setting. As such, I can find complete empathy with students in our local schools who are at times fearful about safety at school.

As an adult with life experiences behind me, I know how those years could have been handled. Additionally, it would have been wonderful to have had at least one voice on my local school board standing up for students who faced threats and violence from their peers. We sometimes forget how important it is for each kid to know they have a fighter in their corner.

David Blaska wants to be that fighter for kids who crack open the books and have dreams for their future.

It is completely absurd that any Madison student in 2022 needs to think about anything other than getting high marks. Our youth with college dreams should not have an hour siphoned off their classroom time due to disruptive behavior from those who have no intent to learn.

Let us be honest and state we have a problem with too much violence in our public schools. Let us also be honest and say some on the Board play to the loudest voices in the public square, rather than the need for a solid education for all students.

Finally, I know David to be a great conversationalist, a smart and witty person, and principled. I also know in these highly polarized days it might seem all uphill to ask Madison to give Blaska a fair hearing, and then election to the Board. But I come from a background that I strongly suspect many of my fellow Madisonians know very well.

When confronting an issue that demands to be resolved the coalition of people in support of it may not be the same as the group opposed or in support of another issue tomorrow. But we are adults and know the greater good is what matters. We unite to solve a problem. And folks, we have a very real problem with violence and truly unruly and even dangerous students in our schools.

I suggest parents of students and those who truly yearn for our schools to better perform listen to the words of David Blaska.

And then write his name in for Seat 4 on the Madison School Board. The election is April 5th.

Thank you.

And so it goes.

MMSD’s Carlton Jenkins Wrong About “Bullies”, Undermines Students Being Bullied

Words matter.

It was truly troubling to read that Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins cheaply used the word “bullies” to describe critics of the local education system. This is at a time when some students at our public schools are truly being bullied and striving to make it through each day.

This matter was brought to light in The Capital Times.

Jenkins said he welcomes critical feedback on that and other subjects, which he said can provide a chance to reflect on decisions and think about how to better communicate the reasoning behind them — though he added that “bullies will not move MMSD,” citing a difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited feedback.

There is no need for me to inform readers that bullying is a constant problem on school campuses and the impact it has on some students is most profound. To be singled out with verbal assaults or physical blows is a real bullying occurrence for some students.

So to then have the district superintendent use the word “bullies” to describe citizens giving feedback and perspective on the policies of the board is almost stunning. It is not fair to the ones offering legitimate opinions to the school district and most harmful to students who are bullied and need not have the word marginalized.

I write about this matter from a personal perspective.  My best friend and I were victims of bullies throughout our school years, with high school in the late 1970s being the most intensely troubling.  Three months after graduation the county sheriff arrived at my home to tell me of the suicide of the person who I had known better than anyone else since I was nine years old. 

I offer that insight for the sole reason of making it clear I know what is at stake when it comes to youth who are bullied.  I know what the term “bullies” means. Reacting in opposition to a school policy about classes being resumed or speaking out about lawlessness in the classroom are not reasons to label people as “bullies”.

How can a school district adopt plans to curb actual bullies, and the bullying of students, if the superintendent willfully misuses the word so to make him and the district look like the victims over policy disputes?

Words matter. And when they are misapplied it can cheapen that word and cause additional harm.

Students who are bullied need our collective attention and care. If you are aware of a situation where it is occurring please step up and demand action. Thank you.

And so it goes.

Michigan Parents Charged In Their Son’s Mass School Shooting

The time for sound legal reasoning, so to stem the tide of school shootings, has arrived.

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Michigan teenager accused of killing four students at a local high school, were charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly giving him the gun he used to carry out the shooting spree. I urged this week for such charges to be brought.

Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison. As I wrote this week”… the law must follow the parents right to the jailhouse door and usher them inside.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said that a teacher had observed Ethan Crumbley searching ammunition on his cellphone and alerted school officials. The school tried to contact his mother but could not reach her.

McDonald told reporters that Jennifer Crumbley did not contact the school but instead texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

There is no disputing the evidence about the role of parents and other adults in school shootings. Not only relating to the tragic aspects of this week’s slaughter but also in cases around the nation for far too long.

Charging parents of juvenile shooters is uncommon, with just four reported instances in which the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock firearms fired by a child, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That’s despite the fact that if children as young as 6 did not have access to guns, well more than half of the country’s school shootings since 1999 would never have happened, The Post found.

“If you look at school shootings, the overwhelming majority are committed by students, and the overwhelming majority of those students have guns that they brought from their homes or a relative’s home,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

The four known prosecutions of parents did not stem from charges related to negligent-storage laws. The harshest penalty among those cases was a sentence of more than two years in prison for a man charged with involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy found his gun in a shoebox and killed a classmate.

While I am not a lawyer–though I read John Grisham–it would seem other adults are also absolutely negligent in the handling of this matter. When the obvious hints were discovered as to the violent mind of the 14-year-old law enforcement should have been notified. No waiting for some kinder way to broach the 800-pound problem in the school. The soft-handed attempts to deal with ticking time bombs are ludicrous.

“The morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher came upon a note on Ethan’s desk, which alarmed her to the point that she took a picture of it on her phone,” Willis said. “The note contained the following: a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointed at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet: ‘Blood everywhere.’ Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is the drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding. Below that figure is the drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of those words are, ‘The world is dead.’”

The student’s locker should have been busted open and properly searched. The classroom drawing of violence was not a hint–it was a billboard message!

School administrators failed this child, but not as much as his parents.

And so it goes.

Republicans Now See Porn In School Books, Too Much Concern About Racism

I will be the first to readily admit a lack of awareness when it comes to abstract art. I may like the colors used or the flow of the brush or the way drops of paint are splattered on a canvas. But when asked about what I ‘see’ my answer would have to be more about the wall it is hanging on than the work itself.

‘Some things are not visual. They only exist when the mind wishes to see them.

This brings me to Texas State Representative Matt Krause, a conservative Republican who is openly waging war on books. He ‘sees’ all sorts of ‘troubling things’ within their pages.

His list of offensive books (for now) only numbers 850. He insists that state schools should go through their stacks and determine if any on his list are found. The reason for such a book-hunting is obvious he claims as the books “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

As I scanned his list for censorship I found the masterful read, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. I can not fathom why that piece of literature should not be used to teach good writing to larger examinations of social issues. Students today are not coming in off the prairie. Rather they are tuned into social media and more aware than adults about an array of topics needing a discussion. Using the classroom to take what they know and then put it into differing perspectives is a most useful educational tool.

Books are an essential means to accomplish that task.

Matt Krause

Krause’s absurdity is but one of the latest and truly reprehensible actions taken as conservative Republicans marshal their forces to create a false narrative about schoolbooks and classroom texts. When a political party can not win on the actual issues, or create policy ideas that mesh with what is actually occurring in the nation then a fabricated and misleading concoction needs to be fomented.

When it comes to Krause and this specific action it becomes even more cynical. He will be in a primary fight to become the next Attorney General. What better way to play to the Trump base, who never saw a book worth reading, and at the same time make some headlines and cash in for a higher name ID in the state? After all, censorship and other illiberal actions are not outside the bounds of the conservative base.

The larger battle underway in the nation is for the midterm elections and the race for the White House in 2024. The culture war started this time from the books and educational material used, or purported to be used, to educate students about America’s history of institutional racism. Now they have swung into books by people of color and others who are gay or transgender.

The teaching of such material, if you listen to the far-right will make Little Johnny and Sally feel uncomfortable about being white children. They might have a fuller appreciation for the totality of the American experience, and that will not play well in rural America.

The students might view personal diversity as a positive aspect of our culture, and better understand the larger idea of America as a “melting pot”. (‘We must not have that in Texas or anywhere!’)


Banish the thought that education is designed to open new horizons, ways of thinking, and yes, at times, make for personal discomfort. All that is called part of the educational process.

This fall we were treated to this narrative as it played out in the Virginia governor’s race. Fairfax County resident Laura Murphy took off after Toni Morrison’s treasure of a read Beloved saying that, in part, graphic depictions of sex in the book caused her son–then a senior in high school—troubling dreams.

Say it is not so! A teenager having sex dreams.

For the sake of the conservative base, I trust the dreams were not biracial.

Meanwhile, one does have to wonder what Matt Krause might see in abstract works of art.

And so it goes.