By Shereen Siewert

Members of the Wausau School Board on Monday passed three resolutions, two of which are responses to increased bigotry and bias, according to WSB documents. The resolutions do not change existing policy.

The resolutions, in their final form, are embedded at the end of this story.

The first resolution, in support of LGBTQ+ students, staff and families passed by a 8-1 vote, with Lee Webster as the sole dissenting member. Webster is on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Family Council, an organization that opposes sex education, campaigns against gay marriage, and has opposed laws designed to punish sexual abuse in churches. In 2010, the group was part of a collaborative effort to criminally prosecute teachers for teaching state-mandated comprehensive sex education.

In light of increased anti-transgender sentiment in the country, school boards nationwide are passing resolutions to reassure their students, staff and families that their district is a safe and inclusive environment. More than 60 anti-transgender bills have so far been introduced throughout the country.

Locally, LBGTQ+ inclusivity remains a contentious and central issue. The Marathon County Board of Supervisors has so far failed to pass a “Community for All” resolution and have not appointed a member to the Diversity Affairs Commission. In Wausau, the City Council recently passed a resolution supporting a ban on conversion therapy.

Monday’s School Board meeting included significant public comment, most of which expressed sincere support of all three resolutions.

But some public comments received prior to the meeting voiced concern specifically about the resolution supporting LGBTQ+ issues. One parent, Tina Jenson, called the move “fascist,” while Audrey Felton, of Wausau, wrote to say the resolution goes “too far.”

“We can agree all students matter. No labels needed,” Felton wrote. “Who is asking you for this? Second, what has the Board done to examine the unintended consequences of this resolution? WHERE IS YOUR RESEARCH?”

Bethany Her, another Wausau resident, wrote an email to the board, sarcastically saying she was “so excited for this legislation to go through our community.”

“I’m so excited that my daughter will no longer have protection from boys with raging hormones and men in her bathroom where she changes clothes,” Her wrote. “I’m so excited that her abilities in any athletic sports will be completely crushed by all the boy turned girls on her teams. I’m so glad that while she is in her preteens, teachers and students will tell her to just turn into a boy and do irreparable damage to her body while she is so unsure and pliable and hormonal–while she needs space and time to truly find out who she is.”

Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker, whose last meeting was Monday, said public education is not limited to reading, writing and math.

“Part of the work of public schools includes addressing social, emotional and behavioral needs of students so that they can achieve success and develop to their full potential,” Zunker said. “This requires an inclusive, safe and welcoming learning environment for everyone.”

The final resolution states that the Wausau School Board “affirms, supports, and values the gender identities and gender expressions of all our students and will continue to further efforts in our schools to create a welcoming, safe, and inclusive learning environment for our transgender, nonbinary, and all LGBTQ+ students.”

Both the second resolution, which supports Hmong, Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, staff and families; and a third, which recognizes May 5 as a day of awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, passed unanimously.

The resolution recognizing May 5 as a Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is part of a larger community recognition, with a proposed county resolution currently working through the channels of the Marathon County Board and proclamation by Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg recognizing the Day of Awareness. In a memo to fellow board members, Zunker said the resolution “strives to create awareness of an epidemic in this country and state and the public education component is critical to ending this crisis.”

The resolution supporting Hmong, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, staff and families is a response to a documented rise in attacks on Asian communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials said.

The votes, like earlier resolutions that addressed racial inequality and social justice priorities in the wake of George Floyd’s death, were not meant to change existing policies. Wausau School District administrators recently communicated to staff and families by e-mail regarding the increase in attacks on the Hmong and Asian American communities. Safety concerns and fear of bullying, violence and bias is prompting some families to choose remote learning to avoid such situations, school officials said.

“The Wausau School District does not operate in a bubble, but is part of a larger community,” Zunker’s memo states. “Students, families and staff deserve the reassurance that this district, a public body, remains committed to ensuring an environment of inclusivity where dignity and privacy are respected.”

The board also moved forward with a plan to resume instruction five days per week starting with the fall semester. No decision has been made on whether mask use will be mandatory.