Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. August 4, 2021.
Editorial: Communication still key for school districts
We’re starting to hear from some concerned parents about the upcoming school year. The worries this time aren’t about COVID, at least not directly. They’re about communication.
From what parents told us last year, the Eau Claire school district was transparent as the academic year approached almost to the point of oversharing. They knew what the district was planning, regardless of whether they agreed. There was a degree of planning they could do.
This year appears to be different. We’re hearing concerns about when orientations will be for students arriving in new schools. They want to know when they and their children will have the opportunity to do basic things like find classrooms and the all-important locker locations.
The desire for information isn’t unreasonable. The delay may not be, either.
We’ll grant that the district may have very good reasons for waiting until plans are 100% finalized. The situation with COVID is fluid, and some experts are predicting a sharp rise in Wisconsin in the coming weeks. That may well have an effect on what schools feel comfortable doing.
There’s little question school districts throughout the area are in a tough spot. Announce concrete plans now, and risk being savaged by angry students and parents if those plans change. Wait, and people get upset that they’re not hearing anything.
It may well be impossible to satisfy everyone. There are likely those who will erupt no matter what is decided or when it is announced. There are always those who are just waiting for their next trigger, their next opportunity to vent self-righteous wrath on a target.
With as noisy as those people are, it can be hard to remember they’re not usually a majority. Volume may make it seem otherwise, but there are plenty of examples of times when noise made up for numbers.
Instead, we hope school districts remember most people are more understanding — if they don’t feel mislead or blindsided. If there’s one thing everyone has had to adapt to over the past year, it’s how plans change. Giving students and parents the information districts have now, telling them what the plans are even if they are tentative, can provide a sense that they’re not facing the uncertainty alone. It’s an opportunity to build ties.
That’s something parents and students need to bear in mind as well. Right now there just aren’t all that many things we can say for certain about where things will stand when school begins. Districts should be providing you with the current plans. But you need to remember things can change.
The only certainty we see is that this year probably won’t look like last year. It won’t look like 2019, either. The 2020 school year took us through what we sincerely hope was the depths of the pandemic. Things are very different today, but it’s not over yet. We hope this year is a transitional year, a step back toward something that looks closer to pre-pandemic education. But there aren’t any guarantees of that, either.
What we said last fall remains true. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of concern. Conditions are far different, that’s true. But the lagging vaccination rates in Wisconsin — 70% of U.S. adults have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine compared to only 63% of Wisconsin adults— means there’s still plenty of room for the virus to spread.
Better communication between districts, parents and students won’t erase the uncertainty. It won’t end the concerns that people have about the approaching school year. But it doesn’t do that in comparatively normal times, either. What it does do is ease minds and let people know what to expect for the moment. That’s not something to be casually overlooked.
There’s always room for improvement. We hope local school districts take the opportunity to ensure they’re communicating clearly with the families they serve, and that everyone has the chance to plan for a successful school year.
Racine Journal Times. August 4, 2021.
Editorial: Caledonia incident illustrates value of body cameras
We’ve been advocates of body cameras for law enforcement officers for many years. They give validity to two adages:
— The camera doesn’t lie.
— A picture is worth a thousand words.
An illustration of the value of body cameras came late last month, when a viral video of a traffic stop gave the initial appearance of a Caledonia police officer acting less than honorably.
During the July 21 traffic stop, a passenger in the front seat of the vehicle recorded a Caledonia officer as he walked toward the vehicle. The officer is seen tossing a tiny white object into the back seat of the vehicle.
If you’ve read our reports on criminal complaints, you know that corners of plastic sandwich bags are used to package illegal drugs.
From the perspective of the front-seat passenger, it looked bad. It did appear as though the officer was tossing something into the back seat that didn’t belong there. It seemed entirely possible that the officer was planting evidence.
But the officers’ body cameras gave us a 360-degree view, a broader perspective.
Caledonia Police Chief Christopher Botsch pledged a full, transparent investigation. Which he delivered.
The body-cam footage, combined with Chief Botsch’s Facebook post regarding his investigation, bore out why only a speeding ticket — the speeding vehicle was the probable cause for the stop — was issued and no occupant of the vehicle was taken into custody: The baggie corner was found on one of the passengers, inspected and found to contain no illegal substances, the chief said.
The viral video of the officer tossing the tiny baggie into the back seat was not the planting of evidence, but the return of a legal item to the car. Chief Botsch conceded that the officer’s judgement in taking that action wasn’t the best: “We would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s vehicle,” he wrote. But neither was it nefarious.
The totality of the incident — the initial viral video, followed by the release of the body-camera footage — is a ringing endorsement of body cameras, and illustrates a point we have made many times in the space:
Body cameras provide proof when officers are acting in accordance with the law, and give visual evidence of what an officer is dealing with in a given situation.
Only those acting outside the law, whether officer or civilian, have anything to fear from an officer’s body camera.
Wisconsin State Journal. August 8, 2021.
Editorial: Steve Nass and Co. make it harder to fight COVID
Here we go again: State lawmakers are needlessly complicating reasonable health rules that will help keep our schools and economy open.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, is insisting that universities seek approval from him and a handful of his skeptical colleagues for masking, vaccine and testing requirements on state campuses.
Never mind that University of Wisconsin System schools have adopted and adjusted similar rules for more than a year now, which helped control COVID-19 among students, staff and surrounding communities.
Never mind that UW System President Tommy Thompson — the former Republican governor who led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush — is insisting state universities need flexibility to adapt to changing health threats.
Nass and a handful of his fellow GOP lawmakers don’t want to hear any of that. They are bent on micromanaging public health policy at UW schools, which Thompson correctly warns would cripple sensible precautions as students return for fall classes next month.
Nass’ Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted 6-4 last week — without a formal meeting or public hearing — to require universities to submit plans for COVID-19 policies within 30 days. This came just as UW-Madison was announcing it will reinstate its indoor mask mandate for students, staff and visitors. UW-Milwaukee previously announced it was bringing back masks inside its buildings. In addition, UW-Milwaukee will require weekly testing for unvaccinated students and employees.
That’s similar to what many state and local governments, health facilities and private businesses are doing to protect against a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus. The delta variant is infecting more than 1,000 people a day in Wisconsin — especially the unvaccinated. It is even sickening some vaccinated people, though not as often or as severely.
So a return of indoor mask rules and testing for holdouts who refuse to get shots is justified.
Nass last week dismissed concern over the delta variant as “hysteria,” even as hospitals in other states are running out of beds for a surge in COVID patients. Wisconsin’s numbers are climbing, too. So far, the pandemic has killed 7,450 in Wisconsin while hospitalizing 33,500 and infecting 620,000.
Nass has a history of needling state universities, so his power play isn’t surprising. But other Republicans on his committee — Sens. Duey Stroebel of Saukville and Julian Bradley of Franklin, and Reps. Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, Tyler August of Lake Geneva and John Spiros of Marshfield — should give the political games a rest.
A tedious and expensive court battle over who has the authority to set health rules on state campuses would waste taxpayers’ money. Worse, tying UW’s hands will slow Wisconsin’s return to something approaching normal, especially in college towns such as Madison and Whitewater, which Nass’ Senate district surrounds.
The pandemic appeared to be fading until the delta variant took off. Nass and Co. will only prolong its disruptive and deadly spread by challenging UW’s modest safeguards.