New London School Board debates state issues
Parental rights, school lunches, transgender students, guns in school
By Robert Cloud
The New London School Board considered three resolutions with political objectives when it met Monday, Sept. 12.
The board voted to table two of the proposed resolutions and approved one.
The resolution that passed will be forwarded to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards for consideration at its annual convention in January.
Delegates at the convention consider and vote to adopt some local school board resolutions that then become official positions of the WASB.
Parental Bill of Rights
According to the first resolution the school board considered, “Be it resolved that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards supports passage of the bill in Wisconsin known as the “Parental Bill of Rights in Education” that was passed in the Wisconsin legislature as AB963 in 2022 (but vetoed by the Governor).”
The resolution asked the WASB to encourage the bill to “be reintroduced, passed, and signed into law in the 2023-24 legislative session.”
Noting a trend of “more federal and state mandates on local school district education policies,” the resolution urges school boards to “remember and consider parent’s (and legal guardian’s) input into local school board policies, curricula, budgets, and goals.”
“What’s in the bill? Why wasn’t it in our packet?” Director Terry Wegner asked. “I don’t know what’s in the bill. I didn’t have a chance to review it, yet you’re asking me now to just vote on it.”
The resolutions were included with the packet board members received on Friday, Sept. 9.
To be considered by the WASB convention, they needed to be submitted by Sept. 15.
Board President Chris Martinson, who submitted the resolution, said he had copies of the bill with him if any other members wanted to read it.
Treasurer Mark Grossman said he had reviewed the bill and read some information about it on the WASB website.
“The majority of what’s in the listed in the bill already exists within our policy in the school district and I’m not aware of any incidents within our school district of those things not taking place, so I don’t see the reason for this,” he said.
Grossman said if the bill becomes law it “will make our staff members, our building administrators, our directors and our district administrator susceptible to lawsuits. So basically what it means is that anybody who’s interacting or teaching or has anything to do with our children’s education could be a target.”
WASB asked the law firm of Boardman and Clark to review the bill.
“AB 963 creates significant legal challenges for school districts,” Boardman and Clark noted. “First, the bill creates a private cause of action for parents against school districts with respect to an extremely broad set of complex issues.
“This will likely result in districts having to defend increased lawsuits, and given the bill’s high legal standard of review, it will be difficult for districts to prevail in these suits.
“Second, the ambiguity and lack of definitions in the bill fails to provide school districts with adequate direction for them to modify their policies and practices and mitigate legal risk,” WASB’s counsel said.
Martinson said the bill had passed both chambers of the state legislature before it was vetoed.
He also noted that Florida passed a similar bill.
During covid, Martinson said, “A lot of parents felt they were shut out of the process” of school district decisions regarding their children.
“I think here not so much,” Martinson said. “There were a lot of school districts that did.”
“I’m concerned about here,” Grossman said. “That’s what were here for is here. Our district, our staff and our students, and I’m not seeing any evidence of this being an issue here. So why would we want to then propose something like this?”
“I think it would be very popular in the district,” Martinson said. “It’s something that would empower parents.”
“I honestly don’t feel comfortable voting for it only because I don’t know how our administrators feel and I don’t know how our staff feels,” school board clerk Katie Batten said.
Later in the meeting, she asked if the school district could conduct a survey of parents and staff about the resolution.
Grossman made a motion to table the resolution for two weeks to a month to get information out to the public and obtain their input.
The motion carried on a roll call vote of 4-3. Batten, Grossman, Wegner and Mandy Wilz voted yes, while Martinson, John Heideman and Holly Schweitzer voted no.
School lunches, transgender students
A motion to table the remaining two resolutions failed by a 5-2 vote.
The second resolution asked WASB to encourage “our federal congressional delegation, and Senators to work to nullify these attempts to tie food funding to unpopular social engineering plans.”
The resolution accuses the federal government of using school lunches “as a tool to force local public education districts to go along with unpopular federal mandates.”
Wegner said the president’s executive order charged the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees funding for school lunches, to review its policies relative to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status.
Bostock v. Clayton County involved a gay county employee who was fired based on his sexual orientation.
By a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of both gays and transgender people.
Wegner noted that the USDA followed the guidelines of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008.
“Those three federal laws – they’re not mandates, these are laws,” Wegner said.
He noted that the USDA was interpreting those laws under the guidance of Bostock v. Clayton County.
Wegner said the USDA policies only relate to discrimination in the cafeteria and not to school policies regarding bathroom or athletics.
“For example, it they were denied food because they were transgender,” Wegner said. “So we have nothing to risk in this unless we decide as a school district that our food service will not serve one of our students because of some transgender issue.”
“We’re back to what’s best for our district,” Batten said. “What do our parents want? And I don’t want anyone to not get lunch.”
“The only way we would lose funding is to refuse to serve somebody because of their sexual orientation, their race, their color, what have you,” Grossman said. “I don’t see the benefit as long as we don’t do that.”
Martinson noted the public outcry after the USDA released a statement regarding its policy.
“I’m not going to argue with anybody as to what really those executive orders say or those court cases say,” Martinson said. “I’m just saying if they say we must put those protocols in place in order to get food, that’s wrong.”
The resolution passed by a 5-2 vote with Wegner and Grossman voting against.
Heideman submitted a resolution on school security that asks WASB “to advocate for immediate changes to Wisconsin statutes and funding of K-12 education to increase school safety.”
The resolution also advocates “that Wisconsin Concealed Carry Weapon statutes be amended to allow a license holder to possess a firearm on school grounds and within school buildings if authorized by the local school district.”
Another provision urges “the State of Wisconsin to provide advanced defense and firearm training to all school staff that wish to attend.”
The resolution recommends posting signs that say “Staff is armed and trained to use deadly force.”
Other provisions of the resolution seek more funding for mobile weapon detection devices at the entrances and mental health services for students, and high bails and stronger sentences for violent offenders.
Batten said she wanted to hear what the sheriff, local police, staff and parents think about the many proposals included in the resolution.
“There are some things I like, like the metal detector,” she said.
District Administrator Scott Bleck recommended the proposals be considered by the Facilities Committee.
The school board voted 6-1 to table the resolution, with Heideman voting no.