Thumbs up to new police program. The Janesville Police Department has been experimenting with sharing more information with officers about people's mental health issues. The system works by flagging a person's file through police dispatch software, informing officers how to approach and respond to certain individuals. The pilot program is further proof the Janesville Police Department is committed to community policing and building strong relationships within residents. Janesville officers are now talking to officers in other communities about the program, and it's being well received. Clinton Police Chief David Hooker called the program "awesome" and "long overdue." In our information age, police departments should be customizing their responses to individuals suffering from mental illness, and departments would be hard pressed to explain why this program wouldn't help them.

Thumbs down to Assembly riot bill. AB395 is reminiscent of the GOP-backed campus free speech bill adopted in June. Both bills contain vague language that critics say threaten civil liberties, though the bills' proponents claim they merely want "law and order." The riot bill would find guilty of a felony anyone who participates in a riot. That might sound like a straightforward objective, but riots invite confusion, and not everybody at a riot is necessarily rioting. Some peaceful protests turn violent because of a few provocateurs' actions. The bill's critics fear peaceful protesters could be charged with felonies under this bill essentially for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But the strongest argument against this bill is that it's unnecessary. The law already provides options for dealing with people who engage in destroying property, looting, trespassing and other riot-related activities.

Thumbs down to eliminating Columbus Day celebrations. The movement to kick Christopher Columbus out of schools visited the Janesville School Board last week. Billy Bob Grahn, a community activist and founder of the sober residence known as the Red Road House, asked the board to end Columbus Day celebrations and replace them with Indigenous People's Day. Grahn has good intentions, but he's oversimplifying the issue. While there's no denying Europeans committed atrocities in the new world, Columbus' voyage set the stage for the eventual formation of the United States. Students can celebrate Columbus' "discovery" of America and still learn about suffering inflicted on indigenous peoples. While Columbus wasn't the noble figure portrayed in some history books, he wasn't an evildoer, either. There's room for multiple perspectives in the classroom without eliminating Columbus Day celebrations. 

Thumbs up to surge in summer school attendance: Summer school is no longer the prison sentence that some kids years ago imagined it to be. The stereotype once was that only kids who had fallen behind during the regular school year belonged in summer school. But a jump in Janesville summer school attendance, from 2,760 students in 2011 to 3,563 students this year, reflects a change in attitude toward summer school's purpose. The Janesville School District now offers enrichment courses that appeal to kids who want to learn for learning's sake. Courses nowadays include speed, strength and athletic development, ACT prep and AP calculus prep. Other courses, such as martial arts and trail running, happen outside of the traditional classroom. Janesville's program is proof that summer learning doesn't have to feel like a punishment. It can actually be fun.

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