BURLINGTON — One by one, they lined up and stepped up to the microphone in the echo-filled confines of the Burlington High School gymnasium on Monday. An emotionally charged conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement — and its place within the classroom — ensued.
Some of the residents, parents and faculty described Melissa Statz, a fourth-grade teacher at Cooper Elementary School, 249 Conkey St., as a bold trailblazer. Other speakers, however, admonished her introduction of unauthorized curriculum.
For nearly two hours, the Burlington Area School District Board offered up the public comment portion of the agenda for residents to share their views on Statz’s use of BLM concepts, including social justice and equality, as a part of a lesson plan.
Statz, a 2008 Burlington High School graduate, drew scrutiny when she shared the instructional materials. After the fact, school administrators acknowledged it was not a part of the district’s approved curriculum.
Multiple social media posts were put up across the community after Statz’s lesson plan. She did not speak at Monday’s board meeting and reportedly has been threatened after calls were put out for her firing.
At the conclusion of the sometimes heated exchange — where residents of opposing views shouted over one another — School Board President Rosanne Hahn confirmed Statz would not be dismissed.
“The board and administrators do not believe that a one-time use of curricular materials ought to define a teaching career,” Hahn said. “(It) most certainly is not a terminable offense.”
As with all district personnel matters, Hahn said the matter will be handled internally. She added the review of BLM curriculum would continue through consultation with a cross-representation of city representatives, including local municipal officials, law enforcement and grassroots groups.
“This is a highly charged and emotional topic,” Hahn said. “There are varied perspectives and we know there is plenty of work to do — work that should be done collaboratively, with the whole community.”
The views shared at Monday’s meeting about Statz’s instruction and BLM in general could be likened to the debate taking place across many areas of the U.S. as renewed overtures for racial equality have arisen.
The majority of the speakers at Monday’s meeting were supportive of BLM-related curriculum in the classroom.
Resident Shelley Smith, who has a child in Statz’s classroom, praised the teacher for tackling the thorny subject.
“I have never seen that child so excited about a lesson, and I would like to commend the teacher,” Smith said. “If you don’t think fourth graders are aware of the world around them — I’m sorry, but you’re sadly mistaken.”
Darnisha Garbade, president of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism, said instruction such as Statz’s touches on deeper issues involving racial equality.
“This is about children learning about racism, learning about inclusivity, learning to love, welcoming and accepting people of all races, including black and brown people,” Garbade said. “We cannot say all lives matter because we have not shown that as a country. What we should be saying is all lives should matter.”
Statz has been involved with Garbade’s organization, including helping with what is believed to be Burlington’s first Juneteenth commemoration on June 19 at Echo Lake Park.
Opponents, including former School Board member Philip Ketterhagen, however, described Statz’s technique as “indoctrination” and asserted the practice was more about sharing personal viewpoints in the classroom.
“This board needs to take action on this,” Ketterhagen said. “If you do not take control of your curriculum … this will be passed on, and people will be more emboldened. This board needs to protect our students from an insubordinate teacher.”
“If you do not take control of your curriculum … this will be passed on, and people will be more emboldened. This board needs to protect our students from an insubordinate teacher.” Philip Ketterhagen, former BASD board member
“I have never seen that child so excited about a lesson, and I would like to commend the teacher. If you don’t think fourth graders are aware of the world around them — I’m sorry, but you’re sadly mistaken.” Shelley Smith, mother of student in Melissa Statz’s class
BURLINGTON — Discussion of race in the Burlington area is not limited to the Burlington Area School District.
On Tuesday, Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty and City Administrator Carina Walters met with Darnisha Garbade and members of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism. The coalition was formed to dismantle racism and racist systems by pursuing racial justice and equality for all races.
The group strives to reach its goal by creating awareness, providing information and educating the community.
“As your mayor, I reject all forms of racism, discrimination and harassment of anyone, and it is time for the city to take action and we need to work collaboratively with the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism, the Burlington Area School District, local businesses and residents alike to continue to keep Burlington a strong community that addresses what is before us,” Hefty said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
Hefty is advocating for “a united community, not a community that is split by various political beliefs.”
Hefty’s statement came on the heels of a Monday meeting of the Burlington Area School District, at which parents and district residents weighed in on Cooper Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Melissa Statz’s use of unauthorized curriculum to discuss racial justice matters. School Board President Roseanne Hahn said the review of Black Lives Matter curriculum would continue within the district through consultation with a cross-representation of local representatives, including municipal officials, law enforcement and grassroots groups.
Hefty underscored Burlington’s deep roots with racial and social justice. Hefty noted that Caroline Quarlls, a 16-year-old escaped slave from St. Louis, is recognized as being the first enslaved person to travel to freedom on Wisconsin’s underground Railroad in 1842.
Quarlls, Hefty noted, was sheltered “in our community and helped by several Spring Prairie and Burlington citizens, including Solomon Dwinnell, Josiah O. Puffer, George and Moses Arms, and Richard Chenery of Spring Prairie, Dr. Edward G. Dyer of Burlington and others. Dr. Dyer, for which Dyer Elementary School is named, sheltered three other slaves in our community.”
Spring Prairie is one of Burlington’s western neighbors.
Hefty continued, “Our community and our community leaders must rise and continue to pursue justice and equality for all people.”
MOUNT PLEASANT — A lucky winner hit a multi-million dollar jackpot at a Mount Pleasant convenience store, Wisconsin Lottery officials announced Wednesday.
A winning Mega Millions ticket for an estimated $119 Million ($94.6 Million cash payout) was sold at the Kwik Trip at 4924 Spring St. in Mount Pleasant for the Tuesday drawing in the multi-state lottery, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Lottery.
Kwik Trip will receive a $100,000 incentive for selling the ticket. The winning numbers are: 25, 28, 38, 59, 62 and the Mega Ball number 22.
The win is Wisconsin’s first Mega Millions jackpot since Wisconsin debuted the game in 2010, lottery officials said. It is the fifth Mega Millions jackpot won this year.
“We are so excited to celebrate our first Mega Millions jackpot winner in the State of Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin Lottery Director Cindy Polzin in the release. “We very much look forward to meeting the winning ticket-holder. Also, a big congratulations to Kwik Trip for selling this lucky ticket.”
Mega Millions tickets are $2 per play. Tickets are sold in 45 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mega Millions drawings are Tuesday and Friday at 9:59 p.m. Tickets must be purchased before 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday to be included in that day’s drawing.
The overall odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350.
RACINE — After almost a six-month pause, the Racine Unified Board of Education plans to allow public comment during its next meeting on Sept. 28.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board left time during its business meetings and work sessions for citizens to raise concerns or make comments, with the stipulations that they had to provide their names and stick to a 2-minute time limit.
It was not uncommon for the public comment period to pass with no speakers. However, during times of controversy within the district sometimes the board room would be packed with commenters and their supporters, including students, teachers and union representatives.
Once the board began to meet virtually, at the start of April and with few members present in the board meeting room, the public comment period was dropped from the School Board agenda.
The district did allow emailed and in-person comments for an April 20 public hearing regarding the district’s request to the state to waive its hours of instruction requirements due to COVID-19.
The decision to push pause on public comment was due to several factors, including the difficulty of running a public Zoom meeting, said School Board President Brian O’Connell.
“Opening the meetings up to non-board members was a technical challenge,” O’Connell said. “So the decision was made to forego public comment.”
The board is set to re-open meetings to public comment on Sept. 28, particularly to allow input following two public hearings: On the 2020-21 proposed school district budget, and on a waiver for state teacher effectiveness effectiveness requirements, to give the district more flexibility on the timeline for evaluations in the wake of COVID-19.
O’Connell said that citizens will be able to comment via email or in person. Emails can be sent to the district’s executive assistant, Elizabeth Tobias, at firstname.lastname@example.org and will be posted to the official record and read in during the meeting as time allows. Those who wish to comment in-person can do so at in the board meeting room at Racine Unified’s Administrative Service Campus, 3109 Mount Pleasant St. Due to social distancing rules, speakers may have to filter in and out of the room, depending on how many people wish to speak.
“Crowd management is a challenge,” O’Connell said.
On Monday, during the board’s first meeting with all board members present in person in months, board Vice President Jane Barbian made a motion that public comment be added to the agenda. The motion was approved unanimously, however no one spoke during the comment period, and members of the public would not have known they would have the chance to comment prior to the start of that meeting.
According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, school boards are not legally required to include a public comment period in their regular meetings. However they are required to allow public comment following public hearings.