Quick survey: What are parents and community members most concerned about? Lessons on systemic racism that could make white college students feel guilty? Or children who die after catching COVID-19 in their schools without a mask?
If you are a Republican member of the Wisconsin Legislature, you probably chose the first option.
Hence the recent circus of “critical race theory” on Capitol Hill, in which right-wing Fox News fanatics have come forward to lend their support to bills that penalize school districts and universities for teaching. “That an individual, because of his race or his sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by individuals of the same race or the same sex.
The absurdity of the GOP’s tinkering with curricula was best exemplified by Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield), who recently introduced a bill requiring school districts to give parents advance notice before teaching a lesson involving sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mount Horeb) asked if a lesson on Harvey Milk – the late San Francisco supervisor, gay rights icon and subject of a Hollywood biopic starring Sean Penn whose image is on a US postage stamp – would trigger a Warning. Rozar replied, “I’m not familiar. Is he a real person? “
That sort of thing would be pretty funny – especially since Gov. Tony Evers is sure to veto the GOP’s unconscious education program – if only the stakes weren’t so high.
It’s bad enough that Republicans are feeding ignorance and hatred, creating a toxic atmosphere for kids (as the Burlington School District urges parents to stop letting their kids use racial slurs at football games) . But the real problem is that our legislative leaders are doing their best to distract us and stir up controversy so that people don’t notice they are avoiding the absolutely pressing issues we face.
In mid-September, Fort Atkinson college student Danny Rees died after testing positive for COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill. The Fort Atkinson School Board was urged to act, imposing a mask requirement for the first time this year.
Anti-masks have targeted school board members with harassment and intimidation for daring to impose safety rules during the pandemic, and state Republicans have pretty much made a fight for “freedom” of any sort. common sense public health brand. The same week Danny Rees broke the news, Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) introduced her “medical freedom” bill to help parents change schools to avoid mask warrants.
And not only do they oppose protecting students and teachers from the current wave of COVID, Republicans on the Assembly’s education committee refused to wear masks in a hearing on September 14, forcing their fellow Democrats to come out and watch the proceedings from a distance.
This despite the fact that one of their colleagues, Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), a declared opponent of masks and vaccine requirements, was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19 and potentially infecting them. people around him on Capitol Hill with the virus.
“The choice is to risk your life and the lives of your family members, or not to participate,” said Pope, who, along with her fellow Democrats, watched the hearing on WisconsinEye after leaving the room.
The subject of that hearing was a bill to impose new reading tests on school districts – something the state school board association considers an “unfunded mandate” – another effort by the legislature. to micromanage school programs and remove local control, without investing money. forward to help defray costs.
The backdrop to all of this is the legislature’s refusal to put money into Wisconsin schools, decimating the Evers proposed budget and insisting that districts fill in the gaps of a brutal austerity budget with federal COVID relief funds.
It doesn’t matter if they want to play teachers, GOP lawmakers, despite the state’s projected multibillion-dollar surplus, are starving schools and doing all they can to make them unsafe.
You would think they were against public education. And you would be right. For decades, they have lined up with the state’s powerful School Choice lobby to find ways to siphon taxpayer money from private schools.
But the fight against COVID could be a bridge too far. As COVID rates rise and more children fall ill, Republicans’ anti-mask stance increasingly looks like political suicide. Unfortunately, they seem determined to take us all with them. m
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of Examiner from Wisconsin.