Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.
When I ran for School Board, I never imagined things would get so nasty. I expected once in a while things would get dicey, but I never imagined things would divulge into online bullying and death threats.
I’ve had my share of disagreements with elected officials; even with School Board members that I currently serve with. I believe I was civil when there were disagreements and at the very least, I did not divulge in name calling and/or wishing harm or death on any elected official.
To be completely honest Editor, the past year has been difficult as a School Board Member. Most issues that have been on our agendas go hand in hand with COVID. Creating policy has been impossible. There has been pressure from all sides: Teachers, parents, students, other elected officials, public opinion and national sentiment.
In the summer, the board voted to start the school year in virtual. The day after the vote, a young mother with kids in the district, out of frustration and anger, went to a board member’s house and banged and shouted on her front door, which prompted the police to be called. Then the ReOPEN Schools Facebook Group was created. They wanted to protest in front of school board member’s homes.
I have no problems with rallies or protests – I’ve participated in a few – but I’ve never participated in ones in front of people’s homes. I could see it turning badly, so I wrote a post on my School Board Member Facebook page – stating that it was a breach of safety and privacy. They ended up protesting on Wausau’s 400 Block instead.
Throughout this entire school year, the women Board Members have had to endure a number of abuses: Name calling, intimidation and death threats from persons who have aligned themselves with the ReOPEN Schools Facebook group.
The most telling thing about this group is that one of the School Board candidates, Mr. Jon Creisher is an admin in the group. An admin in a Facebook group can disallow and moderate negative comments in the group. But obviously, he doesn’t and at times he actually joins in and encourages name calling, online bullying and harassment.
It would be unfair to put all the bad behavior on Mr. Creisher. Ms. Karen Vandenberg, also a candidate for School Board, shares in the bad behavior as well. When a personal tragedy hit in the Wausau School District, she and Mr. Creisher, having both already announced they were running for School Board, exploited that tragedy for their own political gain. They sent emails to The Board exploiting the tragedy to push their own agenda. Why couldn’t they have just let things be and let mourners mourn?
As for Mr. Cody Nikolai, I haven’t heard any opinions. Actually Editor, I guess it makes sense that he doesn’t have an opinion on School District issues. When we were both running for School Board at the beginning of 2020, I asked him if it was true he home schooled his children. He said, “Yes, my wife does.”
Editor, it is not lost on me that people have their opinions about me. And they will sit behind their computer screens and smart phones and malign me. Actually, I would bet you twenty bucks that there will be a treasure trove of maligning comments on social media after you publish my letter. A risk that any candidate who runs for office with a good head on their shoulders understands is that a part of their life will be subject to public scrutiny.
I have no choice but to keep taking public criticism, but I refuse to be abused. And unfortunately, as much as I want to refuse to acknowledge adults who participate in bad behavior, I cannot. It is my job to pay attention and to listen. I amended the motion to start secondary schools in their current modality to March 15. I stated it would have been a compromise. Educators were so close to being the next eligible group to receive the COVID vaccine and moving the open date to March 15 would given our employees the chance to get the first shot of the vaccine.
Compromise would have been a chance for everyone to get what they wanted. But unfortunately, the prospect of losing an election was more important if they didn’t get exactly what they wanted and we all fell as victims to bad behavior instead.
And as always Editor: Statements shared in this response are my own views as a Wausau School Board member and may or may not reflect the board position, in accordance with Wausau Board of Education Policy 143.1.
Ka Lo, Wausau