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Arming teachers? Janesville school officials, security expert don't like idea


What’s the best way to stop a school shooter?

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said it might help if school districts could arm teachers.

“When you make a school a gun-free school zone, the only person that you’re stopping is the law-abiding gun owner that doesn’t want to get in trouble,” Schimel said in a recent interview with Milwaukee’s WTMJ radio.

Schimel suggested that school districts should have the option of arming teachers, and he said his office would provide gun training to school staff if lawmakers would allow it.

Schimel’s comments came almost a week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is accused of the killings, and federal authorities said Cruz legally bought the AR-15 rifle he is accused of using.

The Gazette asked a handful of Janesville School Board members and safety experts what they thought about Schimel’s suggestion and about overall school safety in Janesville.

Brian Donohoue is a former Janesville police officer working part time as the school district’s police liaison.

“I would be opposed to it,” Donohoue said. “And I don’t think you’d see a lot of support from teachers.”

His objections range from concerns about training to accidents that can happen even to seasoned professionals. While working at the police department, Donohoue dealt with a handful of accidental discharges from officers’ weapons. He said it probably happened about once every five years.

Officers go through “hundreds and hundreds” of hours of training and practice during which they learn about target acquisition, target zones and in what circumstances it is appropriate to pull the trigger.

There’s a psychological aspect to it, as well. Would you be capable of pulling the trigger when the moment arrived? Would you be capable of making the right decision under stress? Would you be capable of living with that decision?

Janesville’s two high schools and three middle schools each have a police liaison officer who works with students and staff. Those officers visit the elementary schools when they have time.

Although they are all armed, they are not hired as guards, said Patrick Gasper, district communication specialist.

They’re there to interact with students, help staff with safety issues and handle any threats.

Donohoue said he would support some kind of legislation on assault rifles such as the one used in the Florida shooting.

“I would like to make it unlawful to own—or very, very difficult to get,” Donohoue said. “There could be a special kind of licensing, and maybe we’d put a price tag on that.”

Janesville School Board member Jim Millard worked in the schools for many years before retiring. Almost immediately after retirement, he started working at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Janesville.

“I think most teachers would say that that wasn’t even in their wheelhouse,” Millard said, referring to teachers having weapons. “I think they would say, ‘I went to school to be a teacher.’”

The possibility of a student taking a gun away from a teacher also concerned Millard. A teacher of small stature could easily be overpowered by a high school student, he said.

“Security is certainly better than it used to be—there’s a lot more cameras,” Millard said.

Security could always be better, he added.

School board member Steve Huth also worked in the school district.

“I don’t support arming teachers,” Huth said. “I do support having police liaisons in schools. Not only do they provide safety and security, but they are an educational resource for everybody in the building.”

The officers are positive role models, Huth said.

“Their interaction with students makes students and staff feel safer,” he said.

Arming teachers would not make anyone feel safer, he said.

At a recent school board finance committee meeting, members discussed communications updates that would improve school security.

The district’s phone system, which Huth described as “antiquated,” is going to be replaced. Some paging systems within schools need upgrades, and Huth wants to see a system that would allow quick communication among all school buildings.

School board member Carla Quirk works at the Rock County Courthouse, where county officials are considering security upgrades. Currently, only part of the courthouse is considered secured.

“I am 100 percent against arming teachers in our schools,” Quirk said. “I think the Legislature needs to ban or restrict the sale of high-powered, high-capacity weapons.”

Quirk said she didn’t understand how lawmakers could think a plan to arm teachers would benefit schools or help prevent school shootings.

“I think the Janesville School District does a good job with security,” Quirk said.

However, she said she was willing to listen to proposals brought forward by school administration.

One Janesville neighborhood's flood struggle


Connie Bouton’s home on Bingham Avenue doesn’t have a basement, and her sump pump couldn’t keep up Tuesday.

The water rushed in.

Bouton lives a block from Beloit Avenue in a low-lying neighborhood on Janesville’s southeast side plagued by flooding.

“It was pouring in. I’ve never seen anything happen so fast,” Bouton said. “People don’t believe you when you call them and say, ‘Hey, I’m getting flooded down here.’ They think you’re joking.”

The Gazette posted a video Tuesday of Bouton wading through waist-high water as she held her Yorkshire terrier. She had to flee her house and shut off the power. The water was just too much.

She had another dog to rescue, a mastiff, that she went back and retrieved with a friend.

Dee Patt lives in the same neighborhood in a home with a basement furnished with fresh carpet, scattered chairs and piled-on storage containers. She didn’t see a drop of water during Tuesday’s flooding.

Patt raised the lower-level of her basement about 18 inches and installed sump pumps after the basement first flooded in 1978. It hasn’t flooded since.

She has lived there since 1968 and said the area floods frequently.

She learned a hard lesson in 1978.

“We got smart and got sump pumps,” she said.

Steve Peck lives behind Patt on Putnam Avenue near Delavan Drive. Even though he installed three sump pumps after the 2008 flooding, three to four inches of water accumulated in his basement Tuesday, he said.

“We’re getting there,” Peck said. “For some reason, I think this house is the worst. We just collect it.”

It’s a year-round struggle against flooding in the area, residents said. The worst is usually in the spring. Without sump pumps, the houses would flood at least once a year, they said.

Loie Bright lives across the street from Patt on Beloit Avenue. Like Peck, she installed sump pumps after the 2008 floods. Her basement hasn’t flooded since.

“I run the pumps,” she said. “If I didn’t run the pumps, I suppose I would flood every year. It is what it is.”

It all goes back to the flood of 2008, Peck said. He thinks it did something to the groundwater.

“The water table came up in ‘08, and it hasn’t gone back down,” he said. “In ‘08, (the water) was around for so long, it just filled up (the groundwater). There’s just nowhere else for the water to go.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, at least three other homes in the neighborhood equipped with sump pumps still were pumping water from their basements. But even though these houses tend to flood easily, the flooding of the roads was unusual Tuesday, Bright said.

“The corner—I’ve never seen it like that, like it was yesterday,” Bright said. “I sat out on the porch watching the water rescue.”

The Janesville Fire Department was called to the Beloit and Delavan intersection twice Wednesday to help stranded vehicles, Deputy Chief Bill Ruchti said.

“Yesterday, the water was very deep there,” Ruchti said, calling the flooding “unprecedented.”

Much of the water had either receded from the neighborhood or turned to ice by Wednesday afternoon.

The water at Bouton’s house had mostly receded by Wednesday. Her hardwood floors were left unscathed, and none of her belongings were damaged, “just wet,” she said.

“I came down here for a peaceful life,” she said. “Everybody comes down here to visit me because it’s like a campground. Nobody even knew I was down here in a flood zone.

“I learned a lot, now. I’m going to get a pair of yellow boots so when I’ve got to shut off my electricity, I’m not standing in water when I do it.

“And I’m going to get a canoe. I’m not joking.

“I’m getting one so if this happens again, I can get out of here.”

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St. William Catholic School's First Lego League team headed to state--again


This time, no more turns.

This time, it’s on to nationals—or at least Lego Land.

St. William Catholic School’s First Lego League team got together Tuesday for a final practice in advance of Sunday’s state Lego robotics competition.

This is the team’s third trip to state, and its returning members are determined to make this their best effort. Half the team will graduate in June.

Sure, they could be on a First Lego League team at Parker or Craig high schools, but it won’t be the same.

“We’re like a family,” said Olivia Mauritz, throwing her arm around two of her teammates.

Here’s how a Lego robotics competition works:

Students are given a theme—this year it was water—and get a game board and a Lego robotics kit.

From there, the students have to build and program their robots to perform tasks on the game board. For example, the robot might have to pick up and move a well, get a fire truck to the proper spot or flush a toilet—a Lego toilet, of course.

The more tasks a robot can do in 2 minutes, 30 seconds, the higher the students score.

But here’s the thing: Even if you have the fastest robot on the table, you can’t win unless you do well in the three morning events, said Bob Getka, a Parker High School computer science teacher and one of the team’s coaches.

The morning events include:

  • A presentation on that year’s topic. The St. William team will talk about graywater—wastewater produced in sinks, washers and in the kitchen, explained team member Kyna Smith. In many places in the South, graywater is recycled so it can be used in the toilet, Smith said.
  • A team problem-solving exercise. One year, teams were asked to stand on a rug and turn it over without using their hands.
  • Explaining to the judges how their robots work. How did they make their programming decisions?

If asking a middle-schooler about programming decisions seems strange, consider this: Mimi Hahn, one of the team’s coaches, teaches basic programming to kindergartners.

And Getka is reconsidering his high school programming curriculum because students know significantly more than they once did.

For this year’s competition, the St. William team is doing things differently. Instead of designing a robot that turns, they made one that moves only backward and forward. All of the tasks can be done with arms that extend off the robot, said Jim Speece, a team mentor.

Even with the best programming, a robot’s trajectory changes in an infinitesimal way when it turns. That can throw everything off.

On Tuesday, sixth-grader Carter Smalley and eighth-grader Jake Brost made their robot go through a series of trial runs. One little glitch could cost them points. For example, if the robotic arm that pulls the firetruck away from its station pulls too vigorously, the truck might tip over. Those plastic wheels are unreliable.

Speece and the students had a spreadsheet that showed how many points each task was worth and how long each one took. Using that information helped them plot their course.

Kids joined the team—and stayed on it—for a variety of reasons.

“It was exciting to be a part of something that wasn’t a sports team,” Mauritz said.

Smith joined just to give it a try. She stayed because she liked the challenge of solving problems on the fly.

“You really have to think outside the box,” Smith said.

If the students place in the top four spots, they’ll head to a national event in either Detroit or Arkansas. The fifth-place team gets to go to Lego Land.

'Fix it!' Gun violence plea to Trump from students, parents


Spilling out wrenching tales of lost lives and stolen security, students and parents appealed to President Donald Trump on Wednesday to set politics aside and protect America’s school children from the scourge of gun violence. Trump listened intently to the raw emotion and pledged action, including the possibility of arming teachers.

“I turned 18 the day after” the shooting, said a tearful Samuel Zeif, a student at the Florida high school where a former student’s assault left 17 dead last week. “Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. And I don’t understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war. An AR. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?”

Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks.” And he suggested he supported allowing some teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons to be ready for intruders. But largely he listened, holding handwritten notes bearing his message to the families. “I hear you” was written in black marker.

The president had invited the teen survivors of school violence and parents of murdered children in a show of his resolve against gun violence in the wake of last week’s shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and in past years at schools in Connecticut and Colorado. The latest episode has prompted a renewed and growing call for stronger gun control.

Trump invited his guests to suggest solutions and solicited feedback. He did not fully endorse any specific policy solution but pledged to take action and expressed interest in widely differing approaches.

Besides considering concealed carrying of weapons by trained school employees, a concept he has endorsed in the past, he said he planned to go “very strongly into age, age of purchase.” And he said he was committed to improving background checks and working on mental health.

Most in the group were emotional but quiet and polite.

But Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed last week, noted the previous school massacres and raged over his loss, saying this moment isn’t about gun laws but about fixing the schools.

“It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it and I’m pissed. Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again,” said Pollack. “King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now.”

A strong supporter of gun rights, Trump has nonetheless indicated in recent days that he is willing to consider ideas not in keeping with National Rifle Association orthodoxy, including age restrictions for buying assault-type weapons. Still, gun owners are a key part of his base of supporters.

The NRA quickly rejected any talk of raising the age for buying long guns to 21.

“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them for purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” the group said in a statement.

Several dozen people assembled in the White House State Dining Room. Among them were students from Parkland along with their parents. Also present were parents of students killed in massacres at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Students and parents from the Washington area also were present.

The student body president at the Parkland school, Julia Cordover, tearfully told Trump that she “was lucky enough to come home from school.”

She added, “I am confident you will do the right thing.”

Trump later tweeted that he would “always remember” the meeting. “So much love in the midst of so much pain. We must not let them down. We must keep our children safe!!”

Not all the students impacted by the shooting came to the White House.

David Hogg, who has been one of the students actively calling for gun control, was invited but declined, said his mother Rebecca Boldrick.

“His point was (Trump needs) to come to Parkland; we’re not going there,” she said.

Throughout the day Wednesday, television news showed footage of student survivors of the violence marching on the Florida state Capitol, calling for tougher laws. The protests came closer to Trump, too, with hundreds of students from suburban Maryland attending a rally at the Capitol and then marching to the White House.

Inside the executive mansion, Trump said at the end of an hour listening to tales of pain and anguish, “Thank you for pouring out your hearts because the world is watching and we’re going to come up with a solution.”

Television personality Geraldo Rivera had dinner with Trump at his private Palm Beach club over the weekend and described Trump as “deeply affected” by his visit Friday with Parkland survivors. In an email, Rivera said he and Trump discussed the idea of raising the minimum age to purchase assault-type weapons.

Trump “suggested strongly that he was going to act to strengthen background checks,” Rivera said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Wednesday they would introduce a bill to raise the minimum age required to purchase rifles from gun dealers, including assault weapons such as the AR-15.

“A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15,” Flake said on Twitter. A buyer must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed gun dealer.

Trump embraced gun rights during his presidential campaign, though he supported some gun control before he became a candidate, backing an assault weapons ban and a longer waiting period to purchase a gun in a 2000 book.

On Tuesday, Trump directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. The White House has also said Trump was looking at a bill that would strengthen federal gun background checks.

But those moves have drawn criticism as being inadequate, with Democrats questioning whether the Justice Department even has authority to regulate bump stocks and arguing that the background check legislation would not go far enough.

The department said its review of whether bump stocks are federally prohibited is ongoing but did not say how Trump’s order would affect that.

An effort to pass bump stock legislation last year fizzled out.

On background checks, Trump has suggested he is open to a bipartisan bill developed in response to a mass shooting at a Texas church. It would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the bill is “a small step” but said Democrats want to see universal background check legislation.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said Wednesday that he’ll probably reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would require background checks for all gun purchases online and at gun shows. He said he planned to discuss the idea with Trump.

That bill first emerged with backing from Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia following the 2012 slaying of 26 children and adults in Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. It failed then and at least one more time since.

But Darrell Scott, the father of Columbine High School victim Rachel Scott, said he felt the president had been moved by the group’s words.

“I feel like there’s a different tone in the air,” he said, “than there has been before.”

Gazette at a Glance for Feb. 22, 2018

Local • 3A, 6A

Building’s future debated

Church members and others attending a meeting about the future of St. Patrick Catholic School on Wednesday night were excited and upbeat. Suggestions included a Fourth Ward community center, a site for adult education and child care, and partnerships with a variety of community organizations. The church announced last month that the school will close at the end of the school year.

State • 2A

Juvenile prison bill advances

The state Assembly passed a sweeping bipartisan overhaul of Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system Wednesday, approving a bill that would close the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison by 2021. Gov. Scott Walker supports the measure, but it’s unclear whether it can clear the Senate. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has refused to commit to the measure, saying passing it would be a “heavy lift.”

Nation/World • 5B-6B

Evangelist Graham dies at 99

The Rev. Billy Graham, dubbed “America’s Pastor” and the “Protestant Pope,” died Wednesday at his North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and reach no other evangelist is likely ever to match. The North Carolina-born Graham transformed the tent revival into an event that filled football arenas, and reached the masses by making pioneering use of television in prosperous postwar America.