The Janesville School District’s middle and high school students will return to classrooms next week as planned, although the school board Tuesday heard pleas to both reopen the schools and extend virtual learning.
The district’s older students have been learning virtually since the board approved a pivot from Nov. 30 through Jan. 15 to prevent possible COVID-19 exposure caused by holiday gatherings. Elementary students have continued to learn in person.
Students have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but in-person classes will resume Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Parent Karla Herrman wept as she spoke about her daughter, a Marshall Middle School student who started the school year strong when all schools were in person. When the middle and high schools went online after Thanksgiving, Herrman said her daughter’s grades plummeted.
“By the time I found out she was in trouble, she was missing 21 assignments,” Herrman said. “... Not one teacher reached out to me. ... She’s been marked absent more than ever now because (she’s) not getting her work done during class time, so it looks like she’s truant. And she’s not because I have been making her be online. I’ve been monitoring her.
“I have been harder on her than I’ve ever been in the past two months, and it’s ruining our relationship,” she said. “I don’t even feel like a good mother anymore. This school district and this teacher’s union is failing and has failed my daughter this second quarter.”
Herrman said schools need to be educating students in person, and teachers with concerns should switch to ARISE Virtual Academy or find new jobs.
Board member Karl Dommershausen made a different argument, introducing a motion to keep middle and high school students learning virtually until Feb. 12. The motion failed because it did not receive a second.
“I’m not sure we’re at a point that we can make a decision,” Dommershausen said of reopening schools.
The board did not have to vote on students’ return to classrooms next week because that was already part of the plan.
Superintendent Steve Pophal told the board that staff wants students back in school.
“I can tell you, I’ve been out in the schools a lot lately, particularly our middle and high schools, talking to a lot of staff, talking to our administrators, teachers, custodians, food service staff,” Pophal said.
“And over and over again I hear them saying, ‘Look, it’s going as well as it can. We’re doing as well as we can. But we need our kids back at school.’”
Enrollment numbers support Pophal’s statement. More students are switching back to in-person learning than changing to virtual learning at ARISE, he said.
About 2,700 students were enrolled at ARISE to start the year, and that number is closer to 2,000 now, Pophal.
Elementary and middle school students can switch between in-person and virtual learning once each semester, and high-schoolers can switch during the first three weeks of a new semester. The high school has a limited window because of credit requirements.
In-person learning is important, Pophal said. He said the current curriculum is solid, but high school students don’t have a typical full curriculum because of the A/B alternating schedule to mitigate health risks.
“They (teachers) have had to really go through those courses and identify what the most essential learning targets are and that they’re able to cover the really ‘have to cover’ stuff,” he said. “But they definitely cannot cover, in the same comprehensive way, the curriculum as they could if kids were there all day, every day.
“And so there definitely are some compromises going on there. The integrity, the really essential stuff, though, is intact. And we’re confident that kids are getting the opportunity to learn the things that are important.”
The Wisconsin Senate overwhelmingly passed a scaled-down COVID-19 relief package Tuesday, drawing a pledge from Gov. Tony Evers that he would sign the measure if it clears the Assembly. But that looked unlikely after a key Republican leader in that chamber declared the package falls far short of what the GOP wants.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief deal in April but did nothing to address the pandemic all summer and fall. Evers and Republican legislative leaders began talking with each other about a second package late last year but couldn’t come up with an agreement.
Assembly Republicans went ahead and passed their own package last week. Evers, a Democrat, said he opposes it. Senate Republicans pared the proposal back, removing numerous provisions the governor and other Democrats opposed. The Senate passed the package 29-2 Tuesday afternoon and sent it back to the Assembly.
Evers immediately issued a statement saying he would sign the amended version of the bill, calling it a “good start” toward addressing COVID-19 in the state.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hasn’t revealed his position on the Senate revisions. His spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, didn’t return a message Tuesday. Assembly Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke issued a statement saying he was “incredibly disappointed” in the Senate changes because they don’t address the needs of Republicans’ constituents.
“The message from our neighbors and communities has been loud and clear: we must open our state while keeping our vulnerable safe,” he said. “The Senate approved a bill that fails to provide protections for places of worship. It fails to allow those who want to opt out of the COVID vaccine to do so. And finally, it fails to prevent local health officers from shutting down local businesses on a whim without approval from elected officials.”
Senate Republicans removed a host of contentious provisions Assembly Republicans tucked into the package, including a prohibition on local health officials closing businesses for more than two weeks at a time; a requirement that school boards vote every two weeks on whether to continue all-virtual learning; and a requirement that the governor submit plans for spending federal COVID-19 aid to the Legislature.
The Senate bill would still ensure that Medicaid covers COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and guarantee that SeniorCare, the state’s prescription drug discount program for senior citizens, would cover vaccinations. It also retains a provision allowing college students to satisfy course requirements by volunteering to assist with COVID-19-related work.
But it still contains proposals that Evers and others don’t like, including limiting liability for COVID-19 claims against businesses, schools, governments and health care providers. It also extends the waiver of a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits only until March 14. Evers wants the waiver extended into July.
State health officials reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin dropped for a fifth straight day Tuesday. The Department of Health Services reported 2,790 newly confirmed cases and 49 more deaths. The state has now seen 511,136 cases and 5,211 deaths since the pandemic began in March. The mortality rate as of Tuesday was 1%.
If someone stopped Janesville School Board President Steve Huth on the street to thank him for his years of public service, he likely would steer the conversation to put others in the spotlight.
But as Huth, 61, closes in on his final months as board president ahead of April’s election, people around him are giving him credit for making an immeasurable impact on Janesville and its schools.
Huth announced in December that he will not seek reelection to the board after nearly 30 years of service to the school district.
“He has been monumental, really, in his influence in the district, both as a past employee and now for so many years as a board member,” Superintendent Steve Pophal said.
Pophal said Huth has been a “tremendous” leader, especially this past year.
“There’s no way we’re going to all agree on everything right now, particularly under these unusual circumstances,” said Pophal, referring to the pandemic. “But yet, under Steve’s watch, we have found a way to behave in a way that I would hold up as a shining example, frankly, of what good governance should look like.”
Huth first served on the board during the 1993-94 school year. The school district then hired him as its career technical education coordinator and summer school director.
Don Mrdjenovich, the superintendent who hired Huth in 1994, said it was a decision that made sense—both then and now.
“He had been on the school board, so I had an opportunity to kind of make judgments about the person. He always asked good questions; he seemed to be very knowledgeable, and I just thought there was a lot of potential there,” Mrdjenovich said.
“He had a good background, as well, so when he applied for the position, I thought, ‘Well, I think this person has some special knowledge and some special ability.’ And that proved to be right.”
Huth worked for the district for 20 years, retiring in 2014. A year later, he decided to run for school board as a write-in candidate and earned a seat, which he has held since.
Huth, who was named board president in 2019, said he is proud to have been involved in the district and is impressed by the way people work together.
“I think it’s led to tremendous opportunities for kids in our community to be successful, and it’s helped us build a strong workforce for now and for the future for Janesville and Rock County,” he said.
“I think everybody I’ve ever served with really gives back to the community and is committed to Janesville and tries to do the best they can for all of the kids, all the teachers and all the business people so everybody can work together.”
Mrdjenovich said he wasn’t surprised to see Huth take a leadership role.
“His contributions were many, and he was very loyal to the district,” Mrdjenovich said. “I thought he inspired others to do well, and that’s always the important thing. That’s leadership. Doing something well yourself is one thing, but getting other people to work with you and do things well, that’s leadership, and that’s what Steve Huth did.”
Huth said one of his proudest memories is overseeing the growth of the district’s advanced construction program, which gives high school students hands-on experience building homes through a partnership with the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association, and formerly Habitat for Humanity.
Pushing for the recent school referendums also is on his list of exciting moments.
This spring, however, it will be time to focus on what matters most, and that’s his family. Huth will soon have a fifth grandchild, and he’s looking forward to traveling and seeing his grandkids more.
But Huth isn’t moving anywhere. He hints that he’s leading a big project to help the Janesville Noon Lions Club celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022.
“I will still be very involved in the community,” he said. “We’re not moving. We love Janesville, and I want to help any way I can with the district and the community moving forward.”
Pophal said that’s a win for Janesville.
“He’s just passionate about this community,” Pophal said.
“He’s somebody who has a heart of gold, and a really unique skill set in terms of relationships with people, knowledge about public education and systems-approached thinking. When you bring that love of community and that love specifically of the school district to bear on those two things, it can only help us to be better.”
Edmond J. “Ed” Bielarczyk
Harold R. Bothun
Ruth Kathleen Corkhill
Ronald K. Ganong
Donald “Don” Henley
William E. Olsen
Patricia A. (Scott) Playter
Jared Samuel Swenson
Steven A. Teubert
Kenneth R. Whitby
A Green County teen accused of shooting his newborn daughter and leaving her body in a snowy woods was charged as an adult Tuesday with first-degree intentional homicide.
Logan T. Kruckenberg-Anderson, 16, also was charged with hiding the corpse of the child identified in the criminal complaint as a girl named Harper, who was born Jan. 5 and reported missing Saturday.
She had a gunshot wound in her head when authorities found her body in the snow where Kruckenberg-Anderson directed them, according to the criminal complaint.
Court records show Judge Thomas J. Vale ordered Kruckenberg-Anderson held on a $1 million cash bond. The video stream of the hearing was taken down shortly after it finished Tuesday afternoon.
Kruckenberg-Anderson was arrested Sunday and is being held at the Rock County Juvenile Detention Center, according to a news release shared Tuesday.
Guy M. Taylor, the public defender representing Kruckenberg-Anderson at his appearance Tuesday, told The Gazette he believes he will file a petition to have the case handled in juvenile court.
A girl in her early teens gave birth to Harper on Jan. 5 in a bathtub at her Albany home, and Kruckenberg-Anderson—the father—took the baby, according to the criminal complaint shared publicly by the state Department of Justice in a news release.
The girl said Harper had dark brown or black hair and was about 7 pounds.
But she said Kruckenberg-Anderson took Harper, and she did not see them over the next few days.
Kruckenberg-Anderson initially told authorities he met someone in a park and paid that person $60 to take the baby to an adoption agency in Madison, the complaint states.
But he later said he took the baby into the woods, left her in a snow-covered area and shot her twice in the head, the complaint states.
Kruckenberg-Anderson told authorities he and the mother decided they could not keep Harper. The criminal complaint says they discussed options, such as dropping off Harper at a local fire department or in Madison at an “adoption place.”
He then told agents from the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI that he and the mother decided he would get rid of Harper by dropping her off somewhere, according to the complaint.
He then put Harper in his backpack and left Harper’s mother’s home, the complaint states. He went to his own mother’s home a few blocks away and put Harper into a larger backpack.
“As Kruckenberg-Anderson left the residence he heard the infant crying so he bounced up and down on his heels to sooth the infant,” the complaint states.
He then told agents that he walked a short distance into the woods and placed the naked baby in a small area inside of a fallen tree, according to the complaint. Harper began to cry, and he then placed snow over her whole body and walked away.
As he walked away, he could still hear her crying. This, he told agents, caused him to break down, fall to his knees and cry, the complaint states. He then left the area, knowing his baby was likely to die.
On Sunday, a state crime laboratory employee examined Harper’s body and found a gunshot wound in her forehead and a spent shell casing next to her body, according to the complaint.
The employee believed she was alive when she was placed in the snow because of how the snow around her was shaped as if it had changed because of her body heat.
Kruckenberg-Anderson said he shot her twice in the head, and authorities said they found a second spent shell casing in the backpack he used to carry Harper.
A boy in his late teens told authorities that on Jan. 8, Kruckenberg-Anderson gave him a firearm, which appeared to match what officials found at the crime scene, the complaint states.
Green County Sheriff Jeff Skatrud said in a news release they would not provide more information about the case.
Taylor, the defense attorney, said the case was as hard to bear as any in his long career. He said the allegations in the complaint are “really dreadful.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “This whole case, it’s just a heartbreaking case.”
But he said the young people involved in this case also contribute to how heartbreaking it is, and that a 16-year-old is “really not appropriate for the adult system.”
“The juvenile justice system is not soft on crime,” he added. “So I hate to see a 16-year-old in the adult system.”
Wisconsin’s criminal justice system automatically places 17-year-olds in adult court. But state law says anyone age 10 and older who is charged with first-degree intentional homicide must start in adult court.
Taylor said Tuesday he didn’t know too much about the specifics of the case beyond what was in the criminal complaint. He had not yet met with Kruckenberg-Anderson; they had a brief phone conversation Tuesday.
To move the case to juvenile court, Taylor said, he has to prove to a judge that:
Kruckenberg-Anderson is set to appear in court for a preliminary hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20.
This story was updated at 6:26 p.m. Tuesday with more clarity on when children appear in adult court.