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Residents still fuming over mask rules in Janesville School District; school board OKs insurance plan


Residents expressed dismay over mask use and the school board approved limited health insurance coverage for substitute teachers at the Janesville School Board meeting Monday night.

Mask choice

During the public comment portion of the meeting, many residents criticized school board Vice President Jim Millard and Superintendent Steve Pophal for having a maskless discussion, caught in a cellphone photo through a window at the Educational Services Center, before the last school board meeting Oct. 26.

“We have all seen the pictures of you board members without a mask on, which is fine, because that is your choice,” said Colton Measner, a junior at Craig High School. “But we want our choice back. In what world is it OK for people to vote yes on a mandate but then they don’t follow it?”

The mask mandate was a topic for most of the speakers that night. Two speakers compared mask mandates to the persecution Jewish people faced in Nazi Germany during World War II.

This comparison has been made in multiple meetings during the past year.

One speaker Tuesday night said he felt comfortable leaving the meeting without a mask and took his mask off at the lectern, garnering audience applause.

Health coverage for substitutes

Tina Johnson, the district’s director of benefits administration and wellness, presented to the board a plan to provide limited health insurance coverage for licensed substitute teachers.

Johnson said the district has a shortage of substitute teachers and that one major issue is they are not allowed to surpass 10 work days (or 14 days for retirees) in the school district. If substitutes go over that total, the district would need to offer them health coverage.

“We have roughly 123 substitute teachers and 70% of those 123 reach the cap that we have,” Johnson said. “A third of the substitutes are retired teachers in the school district of Janesville, most of whom are on our health benefits.”

The district made a plan with Cottingham & Butler, a Madison insurance company, to offer single health insurance coverage. If an employee wants to have a child or family plan, they could sign up for one but would have to pay the difference.

After Johnson’s presentation, board member Lisa Hurda asked whether the district surveyed those in the substitute teacher pool to see if the insurance offer would entice them to work beyond the 10-day limit.

“We’re unable to talk about offers of coverage or health benefits at all, but what we did instead was an internal analysis of the 123 (substitute teachers),” Johnson said. “We do know the age groups, so 65 and older would be Medicare eligible. We have some younger kids that are under 26, so there’s a possibility of them being on their parents’ insurance still. So based on all those pieces, we felt that we were in a good position to offer this coverage.”

Superintendent Steve Pophal added to Johnson’s answer to Hurda’s question.

“We’re putting a plan in place that we suspect probably not very many people will take advantage of. It’s really not about trying to extend the benefit. We have to do this because of the 10- and 14-day cap so they can work up to 20 or 22 days a month—whatever the number of school days are in that month. This is a workaround for that.”

The proposal was approved 9-0.

Pathologist: Rittenhouse shot first man at close range


The first man killed by Kyle Rittenhouse on the streets of Kenosha was shot at a range of just a few feet and had soot injuries that could indicate he had his hand over the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle, a pathologist testified Tuesday.

But it was unclear from video footage whether Joseph Rosenbaum was grabbing for Rittenhouse’s gun or trying to swat it away, said the witness, Dr. Doug Kelley, with the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office.

Kelley was one of the final witnesses for the state before prosecutors rested their murder case after 5½ days of testimony that were aimed at portraying Rittenhouse as the aggressor but often bolstered the young man’s claim of self-defense. His lawyers have suggested the 17-year-old was afraid his gun would be taken away and used against him.

The defense then began presenting its side, calling as its first witnesses people who were on the streets with Rittenhouse that night and described him as pale, shaking, sweating and stammering after the shootings.

“He repeats, ‘I just shot someone’ over and over, and I believe at some point he said he had to shoot someone,” testified Nicholas Smith, who said he had gone to the protests that shook Kenosha that night at the request of the owners of a car dealership to protect the business.

“My god, my life might be over,” another witness, JoAnn Fiedler, quoted Rittenhouse as saying. She said he didn’t give any details about what happened but told her he “had to do it.”

Rittenhouse, now 18, killed two men and wounded a third during a night of turbulent demonstrations against racial injustice in Kenosha in the summer of 2020.

The former police youth cadet from Antioch, Illinois, had gone to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and a medical kit in what he said was an effort to protect property from the damaging protests that broke out over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer.

Rittenhouse could get life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.

While Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot, the case has stirred racially charged debate over vigilantism, the right to bear arms, and the unrest that erupted around the U.S. that summer over the killing of George Floyd and other police violence against Black people.

On Tuesday, the jury watched drone video that was zoomed-in and slowed down to show Rosenbaum following Rittenhouse and then Rittenhouse wheeling around and shooting Rosenbaum at close range.

Kelley, the pathologist, said Rosenbaum was shot four times by someone who was within 4 feet of him. He testified that Rosenbaum was first wounded in the groin and then in the hand and thigh as he faced Rittenhouse and then was shot in the head and in the back.

Those final two shots were at a downward angle, the pathologist said. Prosecutors have said this indicates Rosenbaum was falling forward, while defense attorney Mark Richards said Rosenbaum was lunging.

Kelley said both scenarios were possible.

Kelley also said Rosenbaum’s hand was “in close proximity or in contact with the end of that rifle.”

Richards pointed out small injuries from soot on Rosenbaum’s hand and said.

The drone footage was the clearest video yet of the shooting that set in motion the bloodshed that followed moments later: Rittenhouse killed Anthony Huber, a 26-year-old protester seen on video clubbing Rittenhouse with a skateboard. Rittenhouse then wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, a 27-year-old protester and volunteer medic who was shot after pointing his own gun at Rittenhouse.

Fiedler, the defense witness, was with Rittenhouse outside the car dealership just before the first shooting and said they were being shouted at and taunted by protesters, including Rosenbaum. But Fiedler, who said she carried a pistol, testified she never saw Rittenhouse threaten or point his gun at anyone.

“The whole night was quite shocking, but we didn’t really do anything,” Fiedler said of the yelling directed at those guarding the store. “We just kind of stood there. You have to ignore that.”

Fiedler said she later opened the door of the dealership for Rittenhouse after the shootings, and he appeared to be “totally in shock” and fell into her, telling her he had shot someone.

“He was pale, shaking, kind of stammering, slurring his words. He was sweating,” she said.

Last week, witnesses testified that Rosenbaum, 36, was “hyperaggressive” and “acting belligerently” that night and threatened to kill Rittenhouse at one point. One witness said Rosenbaum was gunned down after chasing Rittenhouse and lunging for his rifle.

Wisconsin’s self-defense law allows someone to use deadly force only if “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” The jury must decide whether Rittenhouse believed he was in such peril and whether that belief was reasonable under the circumstances.

On Tuesday, Rittenhouse turned his head and averted his eyes from a defense-table monitor as prosecutors displayed medical examiner photographs of Huber’s body laid out on a gurney, a gunshot wound to his chest clearly visible. Rittenhouse breathed deeply as autopsy photos of Rosenbaum showing his injuries were displayed for the jury.

A few jurors also seemed to find it difficult to look for long at the images, one glancing up at a monitor over her shoulder, then looking straight ahead.

Beloit-based psychotherapist Bell goes back to her Navy roots, helps sailors aboard aircraft carrier


Kari Bell’s service to the military has come full circle. After serving as a culinary specialist in the U.S. Navy in the 1990s, she went on to become a therapist and currently is serving as a resilience counselor aboard the USS Harry S. Truman. She is affectionately known by her charges as the “Talk Boss.”

“It’s a good opportunity to speak to sailors going through the same thing I did at that age. I wish my 19-year-old self knew my 46-year-old self,” Bell said.

Bell has a lot of experience to share aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

She started her military career with one of the toughest jobs—culinary specialist—as she lived in the bottom of the boat. When she first joined the Navy in 1993, she said women were allowed to be on supply or hospital ships but were prohibited from being in combat.

Her first post was a supply ship, the USS Cape Cod. By the mid-1990s women were finally allowed in combat. Her second ship was a destroyer, the USS Oldendorf.

Due to a reduction in forces at the time, Bell explained how people had little opportunity to advance. She took the opportunity to attend college. Today she is a licensed therapist and owner of Beloit Psychotherapy. She has worked with veterans and people with post-traumatic stress disorder. She also is a VetsRoll volunteer.

Despite her success in civilian life, Bell said she always felt a little disappointed she didn’t make rank in the military. Little did she know her humble stature is what would cause her to connect so well with the 18- to 25-year-old sailors starting their journey today.

As Bell began to hear about the rates of suicide increasing among those in the military in the past few years, she felt called to help.

“It was an opportunity to go back and serve my country,” she said.

She explained the military is embedding therapists in command. The earlier PTSD and other mental health issues are dealt with, the less likely it is that personnel will have problems later. It’s a resource Bell wishes would have been available to sailors during her younger years.

Bell said her experience in the U.S. Navy prepared her for the role as a therapist aboard a military ship. She must endure a life similar to the sailors with little sleep, lots of noise and plenty of roommates.

“You have to know how to be a sailor. If sailors aren’t sleeping, you don’t sleep either,” she said. “Every stressor the sailor goes through, you go through it with them.”

While in training, sailors struggle when working long hours with shipmates living in close proximity. In port, sailors have to readjust to family life. Bell tries to let the sailors know it’s normal and OK to be stressed out.

“Being away from family comes with big emotions; we train through all of it,” she said. “We are getting them ready for warfare, beyond resiliency into warriorhood. It’s normal to be stressed out. We do extraordinary things.”

Bell said there can sometimes be a thin line between fear and excitement that young sailors must learn to recognize.

Social life can also be a challenge when working under immense stress with so many people around.

“It’s not normal going to work 18 hours a day and live 18 inches away from your co-worker or go days on end without seeing the sun,” Bell said.

Bell instructs the sailors in body regulation and how they can control how they react to events. By learning mindfulness, they can get out of the habit of thinking about the past or creating anxiety by imagining negative aspects of the future, both things that can lead to depression.

“Thoughts and feelings are invaluable, but are they getting in the way of performance? Is what they are thinking and feeling interfering with performance? We work on how to get them functional, back in the game and to use their adversity to make them stronger,” she said.

Bell said some of the sailors have already dealt with stress and trauma in their lives before enlisting. Part of her job as a therapist is to coach them in using the resilience they have already developed and to build upon it.

Seeing how Bell went from a low-ranking sailor to having a successful post-military career often encourages them. It also gives Bell perspective on the value of a humble rank, and she realized it has helped her inspire the future generation of the military.

“It’s a hero story for them. I felt like I was a failure, and it’s become my biggest success,” Bell said.

Bell also draws upon the inspiring stories of the veterans she has met through the VetsRoll program. VetsRoll is an all-expense trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans and women who contributed to war efforts from home so they can see war memorials in the capital. She often relays the stories of those who served in Pearl Harbor or Iwo Jima to let sailors see the possibilities for themselves.

“They can learn anything they want to become,” she said. “We unpack where they came from and let them ‘clean slate’ it. We talk about how to use stressors and pressure aboard the ship to create something brave and brilliant.”

What has made Bell successful on the ship can also help the sailors aboard. She said she can read people quickly and make fast relationships, something key to communal living.

“It’s knowing the right people and making sure they know you,” she said.

Bell is also working a live interactive talk show for the crew that will feature the sea stories of service members who have been successful in overcoming adversity. The show is aptly titled “Resilient-Sea with Talk Boss and CMC (command master chef).”

Bell said she always enjoys encouraging those who serve.

“Their service is extraordinary, and this is why people will salute them the rest of their lives,” Bell said.

Although the sailors have learned a lot from her, Bell said she has learned as much from them.

“It’s been a great way to grow as a clinician. I’m the lucky one,” she said.

Bell notes people are welcome to drop off letters and cards at the Beloit Psychotherapy, 136 W. Grand Ave., Unit 250, for the upcoming holidays to be disbursed to sailors.

Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 10, 2021

Michael Atkinson

Douglas Robert Brandt

Richard O. Brewer

Sandra L. Burrow

Gaddis Crosby Jr.

Tonia J. (Dooley) Eppers

Ollie Harvey

George Howard Krebs

Jeffrey Allen Miller

Lester Paul Oldenburg Sr.

Hazel Cummings Ristow

Patricia A. Schliesmann

William Spencer-Hess

Harry “Joe” Van Brocklin

Colette Van de Bogert

Tamara Wofford

Rittenhouse trial highlights rise of livestreamed video

When Andrew Mercado found himself in the middle of a protest after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year, he was just figuring out how to livestream on Facebook. A few months later, though, thousands watched as he streamed footage from the Wisconsin streets where Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people.

Mercado was just one of a number of people who caught snippets of Rittenhouse on that August 2020 night of turmoil and unrest in Kenosha when the 17-year-old from nearby Antioch, Illinois, shot three men, killing two of them.

Livestreamers such as Mercado have become ubiquitous at protests, seeking to provide an unedited view into movements that often reflect an angry and divided America. They are often near the heart of protests, adorned with “press” identification and protective equipment, holding glowing phones that offer a real-time view into some of the most dramatic and violent clashes.

Some say they are journalists who follow the same principles of objectivity as traditional news outlets. Others are activists seeking to amplify the impact of the protests. But nearly all say they are providing an alternative to mainstream newsrooms that they don’t always trust.

Livestreaming “fits into a larger cultural moment that we’re in, where people seem to want authenticity,” said Seth Lewis, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon. “It seems raw and real.”

Mercado, who lives in a Minneapolis suburb, said that when he started documenting protests last year, he was a “devout Republican.” But amid mass protests over the killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, he wanted to examine the issue of police accountability for himself.

“Now I’m getting my own perspective on things,” he said, adding that he does not support either major political party.

A friend had to show Mercado how to livestream from his Facebook account on his phone before he started documenting the protests. Soon, his video stream had more than 60,000 viewers.

As people sent him money through money transfer apps, he bought gear such as a protective vest and gas mask. He also set up accounts on YouTube and Facebook that paid him for his streams.

Less than three months after first pointing his phone at the Minneapolis protests, Mercado was traveling the country and trying to make a living out of covering protests. He was on his way to a protest in Washington when he heard that a white Kenosha police officer had shot Jacob Blake, a Black man. He immediately headed that way.

As some of the protests in the Wisconsin city turned violent, Mercado said he found it hard to stay in his preferred role of observer. At one point, a fire threatening a church compelled him to put down his phone and extinguish the flames.

As shots rang out from Rittenhouse’s rifle that night, Mercado was on the street. He streamed video as Rittenhouse ran past between the first and second shootings.

“I jumped out of the objective observer mode and I grabbed people and tried to help them,” Mercado said.

Mercado was not the only one to capture footage of Rittenhouse. Video streams have featured prominently at the trial so far, with several livestreamers and reporters taking the witness stand.

Kristan Harris, who hosts a web-based talk show “The Rundown Live,” testified Monday after video footage he shot that night was shown earlier in the trial.

He told The Associated Press that he saw a livestream as “the most raw form of reporting” that would “allow people to make decisions for themselves.”

But even with plentiful video footage from the scene of the shooting, Rittenhouse’s case has been cast into a cultural wedge that has been used by powerful interest groups, extremists, politicians and others to push their own agendas.

“They are capturing snippets and slices of larger things occurring,” said Lewis, the journalism professor. “They still don’t provide all the pieces of the puzzle.”

However, Lewis pointed out that smartphones—and their ability to instantly capture video—have completely changed how instances of police brutality are documented, particularly for Black people.

“People would not believe us so we had to document it,” said King- Demetrius Pendleton, a Minneapolis-based activist and citizen journalist who can frequently be found at protests with a regular camera in one hand and a phone in the other.

For Pendleton, the live-stream doesn’t just broadcast images to an audience, it also transports his audience to the scene of the protest. That’s especially important to him because he says Black people from his community are not always able to take to the streets due to financial hardships or legal troubles.

“When I’m livestreaming, there are so many that can’t go out,” he said. “I’m showing them.”