As summer 2020 rolled along, many local families knew tough decisions about school lay just around the corner.
Faced with educating thousands of students during a pandemic, the Janesville School District came up with three options: a fully virtual experience at ARISE Virtual Academy, a traditional in-person learning environment in classrooms or a hybrid combination of the two.
ARISE enrollment boomed, and face-to-face instruction continues today. But Elizabeth Paull’s family is among the families who chose a fourth option: home-schooling.
“We really, really struggled all summer long with what this school year was going to look like and what would make sense for our family,” said Paull, who is home-schooling two of her three children.
Paull decided to home-school her two youngest children, third-grader Oliver and kindergartner Elaina, this school year because of the risks posed by COVID-19. The Paulls’ oldest daughter Evelyn, 13, learns at ARISE.
“We went back and forth so much, and I wish that I knew then what I know now because I could have removed so much anxiety from those summer months. It’s been great, it really has been,” Paull said.
The number of students in home-school education programs across Wisconsin increased by 55% this year.
From July 1 to Oct. 11, some 23,027 students had enrolled in home-school programs, according to data shared by Chris Bucher, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. That number was 14,862 last year.
Janesville home-schooling numbers were not available Monday.
The process Wisconsin families need to follow to home-school their children is simple compared to other states. Those looking to do it must:
Fill out the state Department of Public Instruction’s Homeschool Enrollment Report
Families can switch back to their respective school districts by returning to the DPI website, editing the home-school form and then contacting their districts.
Liz and Andrew Paull own and operate Paull Chiropractic in Janesville. The family chose home-schooling to keep employees and patients safe and reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 exposure.
“Our primary decision in keeping them from face-to-face instruction this year was in support of supporting our family business and keeping that healthy and intact as much as possible,” Paull said.
Lindsey Bussie also decided to home-school her two children this year to ensure the family business stays open. Bussie and her husband, Jake, own Alkali Tattoos in Janesville.
“With that objective in mind, it just seemed like sending them in person anywhere would be the quickest way for us to have to stay home again,” Bussie said.
“They (the kids) did some virtual in the spring, and we had tested part-time virtual, and it just wasn’t really a fit for how both of the kids like to learn. So we decided that home-schooling with my husband’s schedule and my work schedule would probably work out best for us.”
Paull is a former high school Spanish teacher with a master’s degree in education, so she was confident she could teach her children at home. She said she never really envisioned home-schooling for her kids because she believes in public education, but she thinks the pivot is going well.
The Paulls didn’t know much about how home-schooling worked before they decided to do it. Paull said she sought advice from friends who home-school before settling on learning platforms.
Paull can access the platforms and assign premade homework and tests for her son. She acts as the facilitator and teacher, but the lessons are already set up. She also helps her kindergarten daughter with her coursework.
The Paulls try to keep their kids on a consistent schedule. The children work on core classes from 9 a.m. to noon each day. For Oliver, that means English, math and social studies. Elaina works on kindergarten skills such as reading, writing and counting.
“I miss seeing my friends and not going to a classroom. It just feels different,” Oliver said. “I do like being able to learn with my cats here.”
Afternoons are designed for creative activities in other subjects, such as science, art and physical activity. Because the kids don’t have to worry about logistics such as walking to class or recess, they save time, Paull said.
The Bussies also focus on core classes each morning. Their kids—Quinn, who is 9, and Rory, 7—begin school around 8 a.m. at their own work spaces. They focus on math and English until about 10:30 a.m., when Mom and Dad have to go to work.
The Bussie kids spend their afternoons at their grandparents’ house, where they finish schoolwork in other classes, such as social studies and science. Sometimes, they bring books from the library to help further the lessons. Mondays are for science, and Tuesdays are for social studies and art.
The Paulls experienced a learning curve as the kids adjusted to Mom as their teacher, but the flexibility of home-schooling was a nice change, Liz Paull said.
Lindsey Bussie shared that sentiment. But because she and her husband have to report to work, it sometimes feels like they are rushing the kids instead of allowing them to learn at their own speed, she said.
Bussie said the family has enjoyed the home-school benefits.
“I always wanted to home-school as a romantic type of notion,” she said. “Like it seems really neat to see how your kids learn because as a parent it’s always neat to see them learn and grow.”
Still, both families look forward to the day that their kids can return to classrooms.
“I know they both want to be in person, and I would support them in whatever they want to do,” Bussie said. “It is fun, and it’s really cool to kind of be a part of your kids’ learning and see how they learn. But as far as juggling everything, it would be a bit of a relief to have them be in person and not have to juggle so many schedules and so many other things.”
“I’m not the traditional home-schooling mom. I am home-schooling kind of in a temporary place, but we’re embracing it with open arms while we are in this,” Paull said.
“We would love to be back in our schools with our friends and our teachers as soon as things look like they will be safe and our business will not be interrupted for having to close down. We definitely plan to return to traditional schooling, but we are absolutely enjoying our time together. This is not a miserable experience at all.”
Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.
Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump’s third justice on the court, as Republicans continue to reshape the judiciary.
Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court’s rightward tilt.
“This is a momentous day for America,” Trump said at a primetime swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House.
Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to Barrett before a crowd of about 200. Barrett will be able to participate in the court after taking the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony at the court today.
Barrett told those gathered that she learned through the “rigorous confirmation” that “it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences.” She vowed, “I will do my job without any fear or favor.”
Monday’s vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence’s office said Monday he would not preside at the Senate session unless his tie-breaking vote was needed after Democrats asked him to stay away when his aides tested positive for COVID-19. The vote was 52-48, and Pence’s vote was not necessary.
“Voting to confirm this nominee should make every single senator proud,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fending off criticism he characterized as “outlandish” in a lengthy speech. During a rare weekend session he declared that Barrett’s opponents “won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Pence’s presence presiding for the vote would have been expected, showcasing the Republican priority. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said it would not only violate virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
Underscoring the political divide during the pandemic, the Republican senators, most wearing masks, sat in their seats as is tradition for landmark votes, and applauded the outcome, with fist-bumps. Democratic senators were not present, heeding Schumer’s advice not to linger in the chamber. Some GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus after a Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination last month but have since returned from quarantine.
Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee.
Speaking near midnight Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the vote “illegitimate” and “the last gasp of a desperate party.”
Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The justices also are weighing Trump’s emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from acquiring his tax returns. And on Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Just before the Senate vote began, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.
Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as “Obamacare.”
During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett was careful not to disclose how she would rule on any such cases.
She presented herself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.” But her writings against abortion and a ruling on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised the mother of seven as a role model for conservative women.
“This is historic,” Graham said.
Republicans focused on her Catholic faith, criticizing earlier Democratic questions about her beliefs. Graham called Barrett “unabashedly pro-life.”
At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. That was an escalation of a rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under President Barack Obama.
Republicans are taking a political plunge days from the Nov. 3 election with the presidency and their Senate majority at stake.
Only one Republican—Sen. Susan Collins, who is in a tight re-election fight in Maine—voted against the nominee, not over any direct assessment of Barrett. Rather, Collins said, “I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election.”
Trump and his Republican allies had hoped for a campaign boost in much the way Trump generated excitement among conservatives and evangelical Christians in 2016 over a court vacancy. That year, McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider then-President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing the new president should decide.
Most other Republicans facing tough races embraced the nominee who clerked for the late Scalia to bolster their standing with conservatives. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a speech Monday that Barrett will “go down in history as one of the great justices.”
But it’s not clear the extraordinary effort to install the new justice over such opposition in a heated election year will pay political rewards to the GOP.
Demonstrations for and against the nominee have been more muted at the Capitol under coronavirus restrictions.
Democrats were unified against Barrett. While two Democratic senators voted to confirm Barrett in 2017 after Trump nominated the Notre Dame Law School professor to the appellate court, none voted to confirm her to the high court.
In a display of party priorities, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee, returned to Washington from the campaign trail to join colleagues with a no vote.
No other Supreme Court justice has been confirmed on a recorded vote with no support from the minority party in at least 150 years, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.
Bill West has known he has AFib since he got a physical exam to work at the Belvidere, Illinois, Chrysler plant when he was 18.
The periodic speedy and erratic heart rate was no problem for a long time, but the condition caught up to the 71-year-old Whitewater retiree in recent years. Like millions of other Americans, he had to take blood thinners.
AFib, or atrial fibrillation, causes blood particles called platelets to circulate in the heart, where they can stick together and form clots. Clots can break off and travel to the brain, where they can plug a blood vessel, causing strokes. Strokes can cause brain damage, paralysis or death.
Blood thinners reduce the stroke risk, but they can cause bleeding, sometimes through bodily orifices. And thinned blood makes it difficult to stop a wound from bleeding.
But prescribing blood thinners was about all doctors could do for West until a device called Watchman was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016.
About five years ago, West started getting uncontrollable shaking in his legs. Sometimes he would fall while walking. Doctors diagnosed it as a nerve problem. He was tested and tested again and again with no clear diagnosis, he said.
Eventually, a neurologist referred West to Dr. Imdad Ahmed, a Mercyhealth cardiac electrophysiologist.
Ahmed installed a heart monitor called a loop recorder under the skin near West’s heart, 24/7. The recorder downloaded West’s heart rhythms, which were transmitted to a clinic at Mercyhealth.
One day, the recorder showed West’s heart rate dropping to 20 beats per minute. The clinic called and asked what he had felt at the time of the low reading. It came at 4:15 a.m., so West told his doctor’s he didn’t feel anything because he was sleeping.
Still, there was concern: The exceedingly low heart rate could lead to a stroke or heart attack, and the condition was getting worse. Something had to be done, Ahmed told him. Two things, actually.
Ahmed first installed a micro-pacemaker in West’s heart. That kept his heart beating at a good, steady beat.
Ahmed also suggested a Watchman. He told West the risks: damage to blood vessels or heart from the procedures, a risk of stroke, and reactions to anesthesia or other drugs. But the risks are usually in the 1% to 2% range, Ahmed said.
The Watchman is for AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, but that was not West’s problem.
If it worked, West would never have to take blood thinners such as warfarin again. Only low-dose aspirin.
Getting rid of one of his pills was a big motivator for West. He has a fear of ending up like some people he has known who have what looks like a pharmacy on the tops of their dressers.
“We decided right then and there that the dangers were so slight that I’d be a good candidate,” West recalled.
The procedure typically takes 30 to 60 minutes, Ahmed said. The patient is kept overnight for monitoring. West got the treatment three months ago.
Like so many other procedures these days, a Watchman delivered through a tube that is inserted into a vein in the groin.
The Watchman opens like an umbrella in the heart and is lodged in a pouch-like cavity in the heart called the left atrial appendage.
Think of the Watchman as a coffee filter, Ahmed said. It is designed to remain in the body for the rest of West’s life, filtering blood, removing blood-clotting material before it can be pumped out to the rest of the body.
“I’m pretty happy with the results,” West said. “I’m still having some of these neurological symptoms. … I’m feeling a whole lot better. I have more energy. I’ve actually been out trying do a bit of walking.”
Ahmed said the pacemaker is what makes West feel stronger. The Watchman’s effects are more subtle but could be lifesaving. It catches clots so they don’t move into the bloodstream, allowing West to stop taking blood thinners after about six months.
Mercyhealth hired Ahmed in 2016, soon after Ahmed completed his electrophysiology training, and built an electrophysiology lab, Ahmed said. It took years to meet FDA rules so Mercyhealth could host Watchman procedures. Those rules include the capability of performing complex heart procedures.
Mercyhealth in Janesville is one of three places in Wisconsin that Ahmed knows that install Watchmans. The others are University Hospital in Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Mercyhealth officials didn’t know the cost of the procedure or the device specifically, as out-of-pocket costs are determined by insurance. West said he hadn’t received the bills yet.
Ahmed has performed 19 of the procedures, none with immediate post-procedure problems, he said. Patients must stay on blood thinners for about six months afterward, but eventually, they can stop, and the only drug they must take after that is low-dose aspirin.
Patients save on blood-thinner costs for the rest of their lives, and the risk of serious bleeding goes away, too.
Two kinds of people are good candidates for Watchman, Ahmed said. They are those with AFib who are at high risk for strokes, such as those with diabetes or hypertension, or people on blood thinners who are more likely to be wounded on the job, such as construction workers.
Ahmed said the procedure is considered safe, based on data the Food and Drug Administration continues to collect. He expects it will become more widespread in years to come.
Meanwhile, West still experiences shaking in his legs, although not as bad as it once was. Once Ahmed is satisfied the Watchman is working as it should, West hopes neurologists can figure out what is causing that.
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