An outgoing school board member says she hopes the current toxic political climate will encourage more young people to speak out and get involved.
As a member of the Beaver Dam United School District school board, Tony Klatt faced many difficult issues.
Shortly after starting his tenure on the board in April 2019, a vehicle crashed into the district college. Then Klatt and his fellow board members made the difficult decision to close a popular elementary school.
However, these questions are pale compared to the public pressure Klatt and his fellow board members have faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Chief among those choices was whether to require the wearing of face masks in school this year, as public health experts recommend as a way to slow the spread of the virus.
Klatt, who twice voted in favor of the mask requirement, resigned from the board on Monday, citing concerns about the safety of his family. Klatt noted cases such as a vehicle idling outside his house late at night and negative communications he received regarding his support for masks as reasons for his resignation.
“With these pieced together artifacts of selective information circulating and the communications I have received as a result, my family no longer feels safe,” Klatt said in a Facebook post announcing his resignation. “It is not in the best interests of my family that I try to appease a vocal group that continues to try to intimidate, harass, insult and throw civility aside.”
Klatt is among members of the Wisconsin school board who say they have faced backlash from parents and other community members regarding their positions on COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools. Council members report growing public pressure and, in some cases, blatant threats to their safety amid the often controversial discussions on the topic.
School board meetings in recent weeks in school districts across Wisconsin and the United States have become particularly controversial, and in some cases, police have been called in to respond to outbursts of people opposed to masks even as the number new cases of COVID-19 has increased and as outbreaks in schools have become commonplace.
Numerous efforts to oppose masks in schools to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have been prompted by conservative citizen groups and supported by lawmakers in the Republican state. For example, at Kenosha school board meeting on Tuesday, a group called Moms for Liberty — a national right-wing organization with locals opposing mask requirements and the systemic racism curriculum – pushed for a cut in school board member salaries from $ 6,500 per year to $ 100 per meeting at which they attended, recommended a property tax cut that would give schools about $ 7 million less funding, and introduced a requirement for board members to attend meetings in person for a fee.
The school board recently voted to require masks at school, sparking outrage from some in the community.
In the school district of Sparta, school board member Eric Solberg resigned on Monday after being targeted in a recall effort by citizens unhappy with the board’s decision on September 8 to reinstate the obligation to wear masks at school. Solberg told the Monroe County Herald that he received “uncomfortable emails” that made him feel uncomfortable.
“It was affecting me on a very personal level that was affecting my health and my family and we had to make a change,” Solberg said.
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Somerset school board members Patricia Jo Forsberg and Katie Thurmes resigned in the face of a recall effort targeting them for their support for the school mask requirement. Federal, state and local health authorities recommend that masks be worn in schools and that other measures such as social distancing be implemented, especially with the contagious Delta variant representing more cases of COVID-19 in recent months.
“COVID has brought out the worst in our community and the worst in our district,” Forsberg said. “Our board members and administrators are so afraid of special interest groups in the community that they only act in their own best interests, to save their faces, despite the responsibility to the children, the district and the community. ”
School board members from other districts are also facing the recall, after supporting the requirement for masks at school. Four members of the Mequon-Thiensville school board could be recalled in november after 17,000 signatures were collected to force this action. Supporters of the recall said they supported the effort because of the high taxes, lower test results and the focus on COVID-19 mitigation standards.
“The school board continues to value the elimination of COVID above all else”, a website supporting recall states.
Six members of the Tomahawk School District Board of Directors face recall, even after the board gave in to parental pressure and repealed a previously approved mask requirement. Likewise, five members of the Stevens Point School Board could be recalled in November after a group of conservatives filed documents calling for this action due to their outrage over whether masks should be mandatory in schools. Two Amery School District Board Members Recall Over Mask Requirement Issue failed to collect enough signatures.
The election monitoring site Ballot has recorded eight school board recall efforts in Wisconsin so far this year, with five more school board member recalls attempted in 2020. Over the past decade, Wisconsin has experienced an average of one recall per year.
The Eau Claire School Board took the extraordinary step on Monday to end its meeting early after some audience members refused to wear face masks as required. A few audience members also did not wear masks at a September 13 meeting, but complied when asked to do so.
To avoid another anti-mask incident, the council has postponed its meeting to September 27 and will only allow virtual audience participation to avoid another anti-mask incident.
“This is exactly the kind of situation that puts people at risk for contracting the disease,” said Chairman of the Board, Tim Nordin. “We will not do this in front of people and create a dangerous environment.”
The Oshkosh school board has been meeting virtually since late August, when the board adjourned its meeting after a debate between opponents of the mask and supporters became confrontational. The controversy followed the board’s decision to require masks at school.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, at least one participant threatened council members, telling them “we are coming for you”. Prior to the meeting, council members met behind closed doors to discuss their safety and security.
The Eau Claire area school district is one of a handful in northwestern Wisconsin that needs masks in schools. A group of people against wearing masks had gathered outside the district administration building on August 16, and the decision to make masks mandatory prompted a pushback.
Nordin said he and other board members had received criticism for demanding masks, but the majority of responses, especially after Monday’s meeting was adjourned, were favorable.
“People against [masks] are very loud and often very disrespectful and very aggressive, ”he said. “But after adjourning [Monday’s meeting], we received a lot of support from the community and surrounding communities. I was really strengthened by this. We must do all we can to protect children. ”
In an appearance Wednesday on the Northern podcast, Forsberg, one of the Somerset school board members who resigned, said she hoped the current climate would encourage more young people between the ages of 18 and 20 to get involved in local politics and run for office local.
“We need young people to get in there and I really think young people right now are really motivated no matter which side they are on,” she said. “But I also think we have to really push the school boards, the village councils – it’s non-partisan, and bringing your personal politics into these things doesn’t create productive environments for public education and public services.”