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Janesville teachers show support for teaching about Black Lives Matter


The Janesville teachers union says it hopes to shine more light on the Black Lives Matter movement and incorporate the topic into education in Janesville schools.

At its meeting last week, the Janesville Education Association approved a resolution designed to outline what racial injustice is and find ways to address the issue in the classroom.

Ideas outlined in the resolution include:

  • Recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Support for the display of Black Lives Matter images and education in schools.
  • An effort to “learn from and partner with our Black community members to help achieve liberty, equality and justice for all people.“

Dave Groth, union president, said the resolution was a way for teachers to share support for Black students and families. More than 30 educators voted for the resolution, and none opposed it.

Groth hopes the resolution shows that Janesville School District teachers support educating students about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Our district is always trying to do initiatives to make us aware of cultural issues and things that are going on with all the different groups of kids that we serve, and we think that this whole idea of Black Lives Matter, we should have the ability to have discussions around this” in the classroom, he said.

“We really do hope that this is going to spur on more conversations of how we can use this maybe as part of diversity training or whatever that we need to do in our school district.”

Superintendent Steve Pophal said he was glad the union approved such a resolution.

“I’m really glad that the JEA is working closely with the district on this topic. ... We’re really excited about engaging the community in ongoing discussion about these really important issues,” Pophal said.

Whether the topic is Black Lives Matter, abortion or another hot-button issue, it can be difficult for educators to teach students about such subjects because of the emotions attached to them, Groth said.

Presenting those subjects in an unbiased and complete way is important so students can form their own opinions.

“Not talking about it is an issue,” Groth said.

The resolution is “a way teachers can show support and try to make it something that we can start the conversations, and then it becomes a more accepted, commonplace thing so that hopefully we can get to the point where we can do more in the schools with it,” he said. “I think the ideas around this issue really need to be talked about.”

Pophal said in most cases, teachers don’t need approval to teach about sensitive issues if they fit into a class’s curriculum. The topic of racial injustice would fit into a government class or English class reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” for example, because the book is about race.

In other classes where the topic isn’t part of the curriculum, teachers need permission before teaching about it.

“If it’s not inherently part of your curriculum, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t teach it. It just means you’ve got to go talk to your principal first,” Pophal said.

Whenever teachers are working with hot-button topics such as the police shooting in Kenosha or Black Lives Matter protests, they are required to present the facts and allow students to analyze those facts for themselves, Pophal said.

“The kids need to be able to learn about the nuance and the complexity of whatever issue it is they’re studying,” he said. “And they need to be able to be free to formulate their own opinion or come to their own conclusions about where they stand on that particular issue, as opposed to the teacher trying to convince them to believe as they do.”

Before school started in August, staff underwent racial justice training. School resource officers continue to work with students who have broken school rules or laws to avoid simply referring students to juvenile authorities, an outcome that happens at a higher rate for Black students.

The district also has an equity steering committee and an equity stakeholder committee, which have students and residents of color as members.

“We have a long history really of engaging around this issue, and once that stakeholder committee gets rebuilt again, this (teaching about Black Lives Matter) will probably be agenda item No. 1,” Pophal said.

Even as COVID-19 continues to affect schools, Pophal said in-person instruction is especially important for students of color.

”One of the reasons I’m fighting like crazy to have school be open face to face right now is because I’m concerned about equity. Because the research is very clear that kids who don’t have the right resources at home, if they have to be in a virtual situation, they’re going to struggle to learn what they need to. And so we desperately need face-to-face instruction to serve all kids, but especially the kids who have those greatest needs, which are often disproportionately students of color.”

Judge extends Wisconsin absentee cutoff 6 days post election


A federal judge ruled Monday that absentee ballots in battleground Wisconsin can be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 presidential election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

The highly anticipated ruling, unless overturned, means that the outcome of the presidential race in Wisconsin might not be known for days after polls close. Under current law, the deadline for returning an absentee ballot to have it counted is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Democrats and their allies sued to extend the deadline in the key swing state after the April presidential primary saw long lines, fewer polling places, a shortage of workers and thousands of ballots mailed days after the election.

U.S. District Judge William Conley granted a large portion of their requests, issuing a preliminary injunction that was expected to be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He put the ruling on hold for seven days to give the other side a chance to seek an emergency appeal.

In Wisconsin’s April presidential primary, Conley also extended the deadline for returning absentee ballots for a week. In that election, nearly 7% of all ballots cast were returned the week after polls closed.

In 2016, the presidential race was decided in Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point—fewer than 23,000 votes.

Polls show Democrat Joe Biden with a slight lead, but both sides are expecting another tight race. Biden wrapped up a campaign stop in eastern Wisconsin about an hour before the ruling was released. Trump held a rally in the state last week.

The Republican National Committee, the Wisconsin GOP and Wisconsin’s Republican legislators argued that current absentee voting regulations should be left in place, saying people have plenty of time to obtain ballots and get them back to clerks by Election Day.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt said they were reviewing the order and working with others to determine next steps.

The Democratic National Committee, the state Democratic Party, and groups including the League of Women Voters and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a series of lawsuits to make absentee voting and registration easier so people won’t have to go to the polls and risk catching the coronavirus.

“This ruling is a victory for democracy,” said Jonathan Manes, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, which represented the plaintiffs along with Protect Democracy. “Every voter should be able to vote easily, safely and accessibly, no matter where they live or who they are. Today’s decision brings us closer to that goal.”

Conley, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, also agreed with Democrats to lift the Oct. 14 deadline for by-mail and electronic voter registration. The judge extended it until Oct. 21. Conley further ruled that poll workers can work in any county, not just in the one where they live. Clerks have reported a shortage of poll workers because of the pandemic, and loosening the residency rules could make it easier to fill slots.

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Courtney Beyer said the party welcomes Conley’s decision and it expands the opportunity to vote.

Even though he extended the deadlines to register and return ballots, Conley urged voters to cast them as soon as possible.

While more than 1 million absentee ballots have been requested to date, the Wisconsin Elections Commission anticipates as many as 2 million will eventually be cast. That would be three times more than any other previous election, which threatens to overwhelm election officials, Conley said. The U.S. Postal Service will also “undoubtedly be overwhelmed again with ballots in November, as they were in April,” Conley wrote.

There’s little doubt that tens of thousands of voters risk not being able to vote without expanding the deadlines, Conley said.

“While the Legislature would opt to disregard the voting rights of these so-called procrastinators, Wisconsin’s election system sets them up for failure in light of the near certain impacts of this ongoing pandemic,” he wrote.

The judge also said he expects that in-person voting in November will continue to pose a health risk.

“While the exact trajectory of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is unknown, the unrebutted public health evidence in the record demonstrates that COVID-19 will continue to persist, and may worsen, through November,” Conley wrote.

Wisconsin has reported 345 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, meaning it ranks third in the country for new cases per capita. The state had nearly 102,500 total cases as of Monday and 1,244 deaths.

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 22, 2020

Peter A. Behrens

Robert Brandt

Judith Marie Burn

Genevieve “Gene” Edwardson

Roger Edwin Foss

Karen L. Grossenheider-Fisk

James Patrick Lipetri

Dietrich “Dick” Nietfeldt II

Arlene K. Patek

Evelyn J. Reilly

Judith Ryder

Joanne Elaine (Cocroft) Schulz

James M. Slinde

William Bradford Spurling Sr.

Kenneth Norman Williams Jr.

Young child left alone after school bus drop-off, representative admits


A 4-year-old girl fell asleep on a Clinton school bus Sept. 2. The driver found her when checking her bus after finishing her route.

Then on Friday, the girl’s 4-year-old cousin was dropped off at his rural house, but no one was home. He was supposed to have been driven to his day-care provider.

The boy was dropped off across the road from his house and left there alone for about 40 minutes, said his mother, Carie Waugh.

Waugh said her son was supposed to be dropped off at 3:45 p.m., and her child-care provider called at 4:05 p.m. to say he had not arrived.

Waugh said she called the school and bus garage and got no answer, so she left her job in Janesville. On the way, she got a call from a representative of the busing company, GO Riteway, who said he was trying to get information about what happened but didn’t know where the boy was.

Then Waugh’s neighbor called, asking if the boy was still missing. The neighbor had received a call asking if the boy had been dropped off at her house.

The neighbor later found the boy in his driveway, crying, Waugh said.

Katie Ward, Clinton manager for GO Riteway, said procedures worked well in the first incident. Drivers are required to check their buses after each run, and that’s what happened.

But Ward said mistakes were made in Friday’s incident.

“I take full responsibility, and my sincere apologies to the family,” Ward said.

Waugh said she considered pulling her son from the district’s 4-year-old kindergarten program, as he attends only on Thursdays and Fridays, but he was enjoying school, so she didn’t want to take that away from him.

Waugh said she and her husband are considering alternative transportation, but they are waiting to hear from Ward.

“We are not comfortable putting him on a bus until we have something in writing, saying this will absolutely never happen again to us or some other poor family,” Waugh said.

Drivers are given lists of students and the addresses where they should be dropped off. Ward said she neglected to update the sheet that would have told the driver to drop the boy off at the day-care provider.

“That’s extremely rare,” Ward said. “With COVID this year, there are days when these routes change on an hourly basis. … It’s my responsibility to make sure I stay on top of things, and I dropped the ball that day.”

Ward said she is changing policies and procedures so this never happens again and working on a change the boy’s family will be comfortable with.

New policies will ensure drivers have the correct route sheets and are familiar with the roads, Ward said.

Ward said there have been no other such incidents this year.

In Friday’s incident, the driver was a substitute, Ward said, although she did not blame the driver.

“I understand the need for a sub, but these people clearly are not trained,” Waugh said. “No one in their right mind lets a 4-year-old off in the country without an adult being there. And all the what-ifs of what could have happened in that time are terrible.”

All drivers will be retrained in company procedures, especially for the youngest riders, Ward said.

In the case of the girl, she is now riding a van that her brother rides in.

“Those kids are our most precious thing on earth,” and their safety is on the line while they are on the school buses, said the children’s grandfather, Bob Buchanan.

Buchanan suggested that better wages and benefits would help recruit better drivers. He marveled at the coincidence that two of his grandchildren would have encountered these problems.

GO Riteway has just started the second year of a five-year contract with the district, Ward said.