Baraboo educators send strong message: There is no room for hate

WEAC Region 5’s Baraboo Education Association members knew they wanted to send a strong message after a widely criticized photo of students who appeared to make a Nazi salute went viral in November.

The image raced across social media platforms on a Monday morning. “When your week starts with a public rebuke from the Auschwitz Memorial Museum in Poland, you know you’re in a bad place,” said Kari Nelson, an English teacher at Baraboo High School and BEA President. “We immediately recognized that our response, as a union, had to acknowledge the world’s shock and distress, but that it also needed to be a visible message in our respective school buildings.”

The BEA Executive Board sprang into action, promoting a “No Room for Hate” T-shirt fundraiser to benefit the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, the first of many groups to condemn the photo. The T-shirt’s stark message? No room for hate. This classroom. This school. This community. This state. This country. This world. 

The BEA pledged a matching gift of up to $500, but after 180 members of the Baraboo School District’s staff joined the fundraiser, the final donation rose to $2,100.

“The Auschwitz Memorial Museum was one of the first international organizations, dedicated to educating the world about anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Nazi death camps, to publicly rebuke our students, school, and community and to offer their educational resources to us,” Nelson said. “All of Baraboo is working together to learn and heal from this experience – which is great to see. Our union wanted to do something immediate and tangible to help.”

Teachers, administrators and support staff wore their T-shirts on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7.

“These symbols continue to be taboo because of the agonizing history they represent. We needed to let our students know that we will be vigilant when it comes to discrimination, bullying and hate in our buildings,” Nelson said.

“After all, with no room for hate, we have lots of space open for acceptance and care and love.”

More Resources:

The Wisconsin Education Association Council works to give teachers resources so they can foster hate-free schools where all people are respected and celebrated. Here are some of the many programs and resources WEAC and the NEA offer:

Black Lives Matter at School
Diversity, Equality and Social Justice Resources
Combatting Islamophobia
Safe and Welcoming Schools for LGBTQ+ Youth
Creating LGBTQ Inclusive Schools
Virtual Book Study on Racial Justice
Take Action on Racial Justice
Combatting Institutional Racism

If your local is interested in trainings for educators, or partnering with your district on any of these initiatives, email us at communications@weac.org.

Spotlight on Locals: Racine Educators United

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen (middle, left) delivers the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate to Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz (middle, right) at the REU Representative Assembly. Racine Educators United members gather in solidarity with signs demonstrating their activism and commitment to their students and public schools in Racine.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked Angelina Cruz, 5th and 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, currently serving as the President of the Racine Educators United, about the success of their local, she said, “As we have rebuilt over the last couple of years, new people have stepped up.” This engagement can be seen in the photograph taken at the REU Representative Assembly when I presented them with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate. Angelina also told me, “People are embracing an organizing model of our union.”

That organizing work can be seen in their most recent success in partnership with their Community Coalition, My School My Voice. They worked collaboratively with the City of Racine to include a property tax insert outlining state funding levels for Racine Unified and funding levels for private and voucher schools in Racine.

When I asked how they achieved this, Angelina said, “We gathered over 800 signatures in support of voucher transparency to share with Mayor Cory Mason and the Racine City Council through showings of the documentary film Backpack Full of Cash and with tables at other large events and festivals in Racine. Now, I have educators reaching out to me from the villages of Mount Pleasant and Caledonia asking why their tax bills are not showing this information. For us, our first step was the city, and our next step in this campaign includes lobbying the nearby villages.”

That may not be necessary if Governor-Elect Tony Evers is successful in passing state law that would ensure voucher transparency. Statewide, folks in our communities have a right to know how much money is being siphoned from our public schools, which serve all students, to fund private and voucher schools, which serve a select group of students.

Ryan Knudson, 8th grade studies teacher and secretary for the Racine Educators United, told me, “We are the only group fighting for public education and our students. When we stand up, together, for our students, good things happen.” Ryan also said, “Our most important successes are when we talk to our colleagues about who we are and the work we are doing, and they see the value in joining with us and fighting for our community. To me, these are the important victories.”

Norma Cortese, 5th grade dual language teacher, said, “The strength of our local is that although we have different roles in our daily lives, our main goal is to do what’s best for students. We continue to work districtwide in collaboration with the school board and the school district toward decisions that are good for kids.”

Cortese also highlighted the history of local strength success in Racine by saying, “Our local has always been committed to our students and our profession whether it was a few years back when the elementary teachers combined forces to advocate for removal of an ineffective reading program or when we rallied with our union brothers and sisters at the Capitol in Madison.”

The Racine Educators United can be counted on as powerful advocates. Cortese also said, “We need to be involved in broad-based community coalitions which is why I am a part of a number of Hispanic community organizations and engaged with my students and their families outside of the classroom.”

Angelina also said, “Another success was protecting our employee handbook when the School Board recently considered changes.” Since Racine, like districts statewide, has staff guidelines outlined in policy within their handbook, it is important to recognize that changes in handbook language can dramatically impact educators’ working conditions, which have eroded over time. It’s local unions like the Racine Educators United who continue to work toward better conditions for all educators. United, we can advocate for improvements like mandatory prep time and just cause language for all employees.

Gwen Shaw-Scott, a dedicated Education Support Professional for Racine Unified School District, reiterated this sentiment saying, “Our strength is our willingness to fight for issues that come up every day. We always stand firm with administration to resolve any issue working to make our students’ and members’ lives better.”

When I asked Angelina for advice to other local leaders in Wisconsin, she said, “While the challenges in public education feel big and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, find issues that matter to your members and your community. When you begin to tackle these one at a time, you can make a difference for your students and your community. This is difficult work, but important work, that no one else is doing.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

Advocacy by Eau Claire educators leads to postponement of school board action on proposed benefit changes

At a meeting packed with nearly 100 members of the Eau Claire Association of Educators and supporters, the Eau Claire School Board voted unanimously Monday night not to cap health and dental benefits at the current 2018-19 rates and postponed changes to other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for the time being.

Many educators at the meeting spoke out against the proposed changes.

The Eau Claire Leader Telegram reported that ECAE President Mark Goings told the board that while he understands the district faces budget challenges, punishing educators is the wrong way to go.

“You are being asked to balance the books in a system that’s rigged against us,” Goings said. “Staff is the greatest cost, but staff is also the district’s greatest asset.”

The Leader Telegram also quoted Dan Wilson, a special education teacher in the district:

“We have been there for the district,” Wilson said, “but will the district continue to be there for us? If reasonable changes need to be made, then take the time to get all the facts and the data and the information. Then at that point, let’s talk about it.”

Commission’s misguided recommendations on school safety undermine civil rights and dishonor the victims of violence, NEA president says

From the National Education Association

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos created the Federal Commission on School Safety that was supposed to address gun violence in our schools and recommend actions schools should take to keep our students safe. Instead, their commission announced Tuesday that it recommends stripping students’ of civil rights protections, which seek to prevent racial disparities in student discipline. Although the report does not endorse the DeVos idea that teachers should be forced to carry firearms in school, it does recommend pressuring educators to possess dangerous firearms in our schools.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García:

“Instead of the Federal Commission on School Safety taking its charge seriously — addressing gun laws in this country and putting supports in place for students after the horrors of Parkland, Marshall County, Santa Fe and the countless other school shootings that have occurred this year — Betsy DeVos and the commission are doing the exact opposite. The recommendations do little to make students safer in our nation’s public schools. They are dishonoring the memory of the students and educators who have lost their lives.

“More to the point, today’s announcement is further proof that we cannot count on Betsy DeVos to protect students’ civil rights. Her decision to rescind critical federal guidance meant to address racial disparities in school discipline undermines the safety and dignity of students and educators in our public schools.

“Schools should continue to advance responsible and fair discipline policies and practices because they are best for students, the learning environment and meet legal obligations to address discrimination. Educators, schools and school districts must continue to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Period.

“Betsy DeVos’ U.S. Department of Education is using the commission to pursue her agenda to dismantle students’ civil rights protections — an agenda that affects our most vulnerable students the hardest. We do not need the appearance of safety; we need real solutions that create safe schools and address the underlying root of school violence. We need strategies to create positive, supportive learning environments and prevention efforts that end the hardening and over-policing of our public schools.

“The commission’s recommendations were decided in a vacuum without any real input from the real education experts — America’s teachers and school personnel working in public schools. We do not need more guns in schools. Students deserve real solutions that will keep them safe — that is what our students have asked of us. It is shameful that the Trump Administration is using the real risk of gun violence in our schools to strip vulnerable students of their civil rights, while doing nothing to keep all our students safe.”

Read more:

DeVos To Rescind Obama-Era Guidance On School Discipline

A federal commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recommends rescinding Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial discrimination in school discipline. And, DeVos says, it urges schools to “seriously consider partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel.”

WEAC members continue to provide budget feedback to Governor-Elect Evers

WEAC member Rick Erickson of Bayfield (above) leads a discussion during Monday’s state budget listening session hosted by Governor-Elect Tony Evers. The Superior hearing was one in a series designed for the governor-elect to hear from citizens about what they would like to see in the state budget proposal he will present to the Legislature in January. WEAC members were also well-represented at earlier hearings in Green Bay and Wausau. Other scheduled hearings are today (Tuesday) in La Crosse and Wednesday in Milwaukee, although they have waiting lists.

WEAC has created another opportunity for educators to have their opinions and ideas voiced to the new administration – WEAC’s Feedback Form:

What are your top priorities for the incoming governor?
Click here to complete our online form!

This form will be active throughout the budget and legislative session this winter and spring. WEAC member Amy Traynor serves on the governor-elect’s transition team, and will be sure your thoughts and ideas are brought forward as plans are made for Wisconsin’s new direction.