Brief

Conservatives, anti-maskers target school boards around the state

By: - September 22, 2021 3:03 pm
Children wearing protective face masks sit in classroom for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on Aug. 10, 2020 in Berlin. Classes at schools across Germany are beginning this month with face mask requirements varying by state. Coronavirus infection rates are climbing again in Germany, from an average of 400 new cases per day about two weeks ago to over 1,100 yesterday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Children wearing protective face masks sit in classroom for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on Aug. 10, 2020 in Berlin. Classes at schools across Germany are beginning this month with face mask requirements varying by state. Coronavirus infection rates are climbing again in Germany, from an average of 400 new cases per day about two weeks ago to over 1,100 yesterday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

A conservative citizens’ group took over the annual Kenosha School Board meeting on Tuesday night, pushing through a cut in school board member salaries and a property tax reduction.

“With rage still apparently simmering from a recent school board vote to require face masks in schools, a different crowd outnumbered the regulars Tuesday night,” local public radio station WGTD reported

The citizens in attendance voted to reduce board members’ $6,500 annual stipend to $100 per monthly meeting and cut a proposed $87.6 million tax levy by $1.4 million.

 “I don’t always agree with this board and I make that known,” Kenosha Education Association President Tanya Kitts-Lewinski told WGTD. “But really, what a thankless job for such a nominal amount of money … what a very sad day.”

Similar disruptions have been occuring in school districts all over the state. Recent efforts by disgruntled citizens to take over annual meetings and prevent school boards from passing a new tax levy in Whitefish Bay and to end a mask order in Lake Mills were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, four school board members in the Mequon-Thiesville school district are facing recall challenges in November after community members collected more than 17,000 signatures on petitions. A website supporting the recall drive cites declining test scores and high taxes as well as COVID-19 safety measures, stating that “our school board seems remarkably focused on preventing a disease with little concern for their elected purpose — overseeing the educational policies. COVID mitigations should be weighed against the benefits. The school board continues to value COVID elimination above all else.”

Sparta school board member Eric Solberg resigned on Monday after he was targeted for recall by a group of citizens who were angry about the board’s 8-4 vote on Sept. 8 to reinstate a school mask order. Solberg received “uncomfortable emails along the lines of being watched that made him feel uneasy,” he told the Monroe County Herald, which reported that “it was ultimately the need to look out for his family and health first foremost, that led to his resignation.”

In Beaver Dam, school board member Tony Klatt also resigned Monday, citing safety concerns because of threats related to his votes supporting masks in schools.

“It isn’t in my family’s best interest for me to try to appease a vocal group that continue to try to intimidate, harass, insult and throw civility to the side,” Klatt wrote in a Facebook post in which he described someone taking a picture of his house while his daughter was home alone and a car running outside his home late at night.

In August, three Oconomowoc school board members abruptly resigned after releasing a statement in which they said, “The OASD board has now been dragged into partisan culture wars by some members of the board and the narrow, minority hyper political group to which they have identified and by whom they are influenced.”

A group called Oconomowoc Citizens Represented had launched a recall drive against board members who supported a hybrid of online and in-person instruction during the pandemic, instead of all in-person learning.

In Stevens Point, a group of conservative activists is attempting to recall more than half of local school board members.

 On Monday, an Eau Claire School Board meeting abruptly recessed and then adjourned when some attendees refused to wear masks.

“When people are unwilling to meet us in the middle with a simple mask requirement so that we can talk and hear each other it’s very frustrating,” school board president Tim Nordin, told Eau Claire ABC affiliate WQOW  “We want to hear those opinions, even those that disagree with the direction that the district and the board have gone, but we have to do it safely. The safety of our staff and our community is our main concern.

The Somerset County Board of Education postponed its meeting Tuesday because some attendees refused to wear masks.

In Sauk Prairie, controversy has erupted over whether masks should be recommended or required for students and a recall effort based on the same issue targeting two school board members in Amery failed to gather enough signatures to move forward.

Ballotpedia lists nine attempted, fail,d or in-process recall drives in Wisconsin school boards so far in 2021.

“What we are seeing across Wisconsin is an organized Republican effort to scare, intimidate and recall school boards members,” says Eric Couto, executive director of Wisconsin Progress, a nonprofit that recruits and trains progressive candidates for public office. “The GOP ignores scientific fact while putting their faith in snake oil salesmen. All the while leaving our children and communities to suffer.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.

MORE FROM AUTHOR