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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Fort McCoy Area School Mask Mandate Proposal Has Tomah Parents Rising Up

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“Our children, our choice” – Tomah parent Jennifer Walworth

When Tomah parents Jennifer Walworth and Catey Rice, who are both small business owners, learned that the school superintendent in their rural Wisconsin community was reversing course and suddenly pushing a Tomah mask mandate for kids, they took immediate action.

The Facebook group they started on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, called Tomah Area Parents Against Mask Mandate, already has 1,400 members (“We need to let our children enjoy their childhood. Children need to be children,” wrote one man in the voluminous comments from angry but determined parents who’ve joined the page). The petition they started that same day has 700 signatures. To appreciate how remarkable that energy is, consider that Tomah is a Monroe County community of just over 9,000 people, and the superintendent revealed that he was proposing the mask mandate on Sept. 3.

Business owners have created signs and T-shirts to help with the effort. “Retired vets, grandparents, students, they are saying we don’t want this,” said Walworth, in an interview with Wisconsin Right Now.

It’s part of a great parent awakening. All over the state, parents have been rising up against public schools over issues relating to the pandemic and critical race theory. We’ve seen this phenomenon in communities from Germantown to Burlington and, now, when it comes to masks, Tomah. The twin issues have activated parents, and it crosses political lines in some cases.

“We’ve been forced to do this,” Walworth said. “We’ve been forced to take back our schools because the people we trusted to make the right decisions are not; they’re bowing to a very small percentage of people who are saying this is for the greater good, but it’s infringing on our rights as Americans and as parents to do what’s right for our kids.”

Tomah Mask Proposal

In Tomah, the school year started with optional masks. Then, suddenly, the superintendent reversed course. He is recommending “universal face coverings” for all children in the district in grades 3K-12 to the local school board, which will hear the matter on Sept. 7. That didn’t give parents much time to mobilize, but, using the power of social media, mobilize they did. The children would have to be masked when indoors and riding the bus.

“Current COVID 19 conditions in our district, community, and Monroe County indicate it is time to adjust our risk mitigation practices to achieve our goal,” Mike Hanson, the superintendent of the Tomah Area School District, wrote on Sept. 3. “After review of local data, I am recommending the Tomah Area School District Board of Education approve the following practices at their September 7th Board Academy meeting set for 6:30 p.m. at the Tomah High School Main Gym: Mandatory face covering protocol for students 3K-12 and employees beginning September 9th. 14-Day mandatory quarantine effective immediately.”

He added: “Universal face coverings allow us to reduce our quarantine radius from 6 feet to 3 feet. The district is unable to meet the mandatory standards of the 7 Day and 10 Day shortened quarantine guidelines enforced by Monroe County Health.” The move was sudden; school had already started. Indeed, the district’s welcome back to school video didn’t contain mask-wearing.

Tomah is about 12 miles from Fort McCoy, the new temporary home to thousands of Afghan evacuees. Walworth said many parents are concerned that a COVID-19 spike in the county, which is driving the superintendent’s decision, could be tied to that influx of thousands of people. People worry “they are contributing to the latest spike,” she said of the evacuees. (We reached out to Fort McCoy to inquire about COVID numbers among evacuees, and we didn’t hear back.) We’ve previously written about a local congressman’s concerns about vetting of the evacuees and on an Associated Press report that some evacuees may have brought along child brides.

Walworth said that she and Rice want to stress one point above all: If parents want their children to wear a face mask, they believe that should be up to the parent. But if the parents don’t want their children to wear a face mask, they believe that should be up to the parents too. In an interview with Wisconsin Right Now, Walworth cited parental concerns about children getting migraines, facial breakouts, and severe anxiety from mask-wearing; some parents say masks affect children’s learning because they can’t hear teachers or read their facial expressions. But she mostly painted the issue as being about parental rights.

“Our children, our choice,” she said.

Others commenting in the Facebook group have echoed her comments. “Sad that it has to come to this. The school should know better!!!!” wrote one person. “Kids spent all summer playing softball, baseball, soccer, football, cross country. But now it’s a thing????? Why?????” wrote another. Rice responded, “I think we should start our own school!!!”

Walworth is a farmer, and Rice runs a photography business. Both have small children in the district. Although they spearheaded the Facebook group and petition, many other parents are involved.

Walworth pointed out that Tomah is such a rural area that some kids get on the bus at 6 a.m. and get home at 5 p.m., and that’s a lot of mask-wearing.

Wisconsin has recorded zero COVID deaths in the age group of 0-19. That’s according to the state’s own statistics. Although teachers and older staff obviously also work in school settings, the vaccine is available to them.

Tomah mask

“They sent our kids back to school last Wednesday saying masks are optional, and by Friday afternoon they sent an email to the parents saying, we are going to have this school board meeting and the superintendent said this is what I am going to recommend to the board,” said Walworth.

An August 2021 story in the Monroe County Herald had said the school district was starting the school year with masks being optional but was remaining “fluid” on the matter (with the exception of mask wearing on buses, which is a federal guideline.) That story said reaction at the August school board meeting was mixed on masks. The school is still offering parents the option of virtual instruction.

Walworth said officials are citing an “influx of COVID in our county,” but they won’t tell parents where the influx is coming from. “Right now it is such chaos over there (at Fort McCoy). (Officials) are spinning it any way they can,” she said.

Walworth said she and her husband kept their son home last year, when there was a mask mandate in the school district. “Our child has a medical condition where he can not wear the mask,” she said, adding that they sent in verification and were told he could wear a “full face shield.” They tried the virtual system where they “sent the kids home with an iPad,” but found it a “waste of time and money. We pulled him and home schooled him.”

This fall, her son wanted to be back in school with his friends, but he doesn’t want to wear a mask. She noted that both she and her husband grew up in Tomah and went to the same school district. She claims officials are saying “it’s a liability issue with the insurance carrier” if they don’t require masks, and she accuses the Monroe County Health Department of “strongarming” the district.

“If you want to wear one, wear one, but don’t make me wear one,” she reiterated of masks. “My son was excited to be back at school. When I told him that he may have to wear a mask, he said he didn’t want to go back.” He’s only 6-years-old, a first grader.

According to Walworth, the School Board is a “liberal and Democratic board, hardcore.” There’s a divide between them and many parents and business owners who are very upset by the proposed mask mandate. “They’re (parents are) like, ‘Are you kidding me?'” she said. “You are messing with the lives of hundreds of parents.” She said there is also a divide in Tomah between some elderly people who are “fearful of COVID” and parents of school-age kids.

She is worried it’s all part of an attempt by school districts to “indoctrinate children” by making them feel “this is the new normal…your child is meant to grow and learn and socialize with people.” Mask wearing inhibits that, she says.

Area COVID Cases

Although, statewide, there is an increase in COVID cases and deaths since July 2021, the numbers are still well under the highs in the state, which came in November 2020.

Tomah mask

 

According to the state, Monroe County has had 136 confirmed COVID cases over the last seven days. The county’s population is 46,253. The Tomah Area School District region has had 71 total confirmed cases reported over the last seven days, according to the state. Those cases are across all age groups in that geographic boundary. The CDC says masks can slow the spread of COVID. But, especially with the availability of vaccines, that hasn’t convinced a lot of parents.

Although COVID numbers among evacuees have not been released, the evacuees are free to travel as they please, Tomah police wrote in a recent statement.

“Over the past several days, we have all been made aware that refugees from Afghanistan have been arriving at Fort McCoy. Local law enforcement officials recently attended a briefing with various government officials at Fort McCoy,” Police Chief Chief Scott Holum wrote. “While I will not relay specific information, I do want to let you know that refugees from Afghanistan are lawfully in our country and free to travel as they please. You may very well see them in our local communities while they are going through a processing system at Fort McCoy until they reach the final destination of their choice.”

He added, “As many of you are aware, there have been several reports through social media regarding activities or sightings of refugees. In an effort to provide accurate information, I will inform you that the Tomah Police Department has not received any reports of criminal activity related to refugees from Afghanistan.:”

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department wrote: “Many of the evacuees, or guests, were at risk in their homeland due to their support for the United States over the past nearly 20 years and are on a pathway to US citizenship. The guests are legally present in the United States and are free to move about the country as they continue to complete the process to become a permanent resident. We will continue to impress upon our federal partners the importance of providing updated information to the citizens of Monroe County and the surrounding area.”

Both agencies said in 2020 that they wouldn’t enforce Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate.

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State prosecutors rested their case against former President Donald Trump on Monday, capping off four weeks of testimony from 20 witnesses.

The first-ever trial of a former President was one step closer to a conclusion after prosecutors concluded their case Monday. Next up: Trump's attorneys will get a chance to present their defense. The case centered around Trump's alleged sexual encounter with an adult film actress in 2006 and a $130,000 payment to her in 2016 to keep her quiet ahead of the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied the encounter happened.

Prosecutors allege that Trump covered up the payment to Stormy Daniels and another hush money payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal ahead of the election and covered them up as legal payments.

Trump, 77, is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a felony.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to Daniels and McDougal. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified business records with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. Both Cohen and Daniels testified during the trial.

Daniels detailed the alleged 2006 sexual encounter and testified she "blacked out." She also said Trump didn't wear a condom. Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial after that testimony, which they argued was prejudicial.

Judge Juan Merchan denied that motion and repeatedly fined Trump for his comments and social media activity outside of the courtroom. Merchan ordered Trump to pay a total of $10,000 for violations of the gag order.

The gag order remains in place. Trump, the nation's 45th president, is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about the jurors, witnesses, attorneys, court staff, district attorney staff and family members of staff.

It is not clear if Trump plans to take the stand in his own defense. He previously said he would take the stand if necessary.

Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens during the trial, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to retake the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.

Federal Scholarship Program Under Fire For Alleged Bias Against Conservatives

Lawmakers have threatened to revoke the appropriations for a federally-funded scholarship program that an audit found favors liberally leaning students over conservatives by a ratio of 10 to 1.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was established in the 1970s to award scholarships to students who “demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service.”

An audit of those scholarships performed by the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, though, reported strong liberal bias at the taxpayer-funded foundation.

“While this role suggests these programs should include scholars who reflect a breadth of views, values, and interests, their participants instead display a stark ideological tilt,” AEI said in its report.

The foundation does have members of both parties on its board, including U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kans.

Notably, President Joe Biden's Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also sits on the board.

House Republican lawmakers on leadership on the relevant committees sent a letter to foundation Executive Secretary Terry Babcock-Lumish demanding answers.

“Between 2021 and 2023, the Truman Foundation selected 182 Truman winners,” the letter said. “Yet, despite the Truman Foundation’s claims that it ‘supports scholars from a wide range of perspectives, interests, and geographic areas,’ just six recipients espoused interest in a cause traditionally considered conservative-leaning.

“Not a single winner professed interest in causes such as protecting the rights of the unborn or defending the Second Amendment,” the letter continued. “By contrast, the Foundation selected at least 74 winners professing interest in a progressive cause.”

The foundation awards about 60 scholarships every year.

“As a publicly funded award charged with preparing the civic leaders of tomorrow, the Truman Scholarship should, at a bare minimum, be reflective of the country’s breadth of values, viewpoints, and interests,” the letter said. “The Truman Foundation requested approximately $3 million in appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year. However, if the Truman Scholarship functions as a career booster solely for students of a particular political persuasion, it should no longer be worthy of Congressional support, taxpayer funding, or its exalted public image.”

Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development Chairman Burgess Owens, R-Utah., and Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., led the letter.

The foundation did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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The Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections and the Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection held a hearing Thursday with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, some local election clerks and Fond du Lac County’s district attorney.

“We're not trying to get anybody into a bad spot here, or in a corner, or make accusations on that level,” Sen. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, said. “We want our clerks, who are already stressed enough, to know that we are here to be there as an assist to them.”

Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, said he wants to make sure voters have faith in Wisconsin’s electoral process.

“This is one of the topics that hit our inboxes quite a bit the last three months or so,” Krug added. “We thought it’s pretty important just to vet it out, to get all the information out to the public.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission was invited to Thursday’s meeting but didn’t attend because commissioners were having a meeting of their own. But that left lawmakers’ questions unanswered.

Wis-DOT Deputy Secretary Kristina Boardman said Wisconsin is known as a strict voter ID state.

“I want to make very clear that Wis-DOT is required to provide free identification cards for U.S. citizens that request them for the purposes of voting, and that to be eligible for that free identification card one must be a U.S. citizen and at least 17 years of age,” Boardman said. “Wis-DOT staff do not determine voter eligibility or register anyone to vote. Someone who has a Wisconsin ID or a driver's license is eligible to register to vote online, and that information will be confirmed with Wisconsin DMV systems to ensure that the information entered for voter registration is consistent with the DMV's records

Boardman said in Wisconsin, less than a fraction of one percent of ID requests are fraudulent.

“We put together [a] case activity report, assemble all of the documentation that we have, we have the investigator that had the case pull that together, and we do refer that to law enforcement so that they can take whatever action is appropriate,” Boardman added. “We note what statutes we believe may have been violated. And then it's up to law enforcement to take action.”

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(The Center Square) – On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted to override nine vetoes from Gov. Tony Evers, including the vetoes that scuttled PFAS clean-up money, millions of dollars that were earmarked for hospitals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and a plan that would allow advanced practice registered nurses to work more independently.

“The legislature has passed hundreds of bills to solve problems facing Wisconsin businesses and families. Most of these bills were signed into law, but many were vetoed by a governor more focused on politics than policies that help everyday Wisconsinites,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Tuesday. “Overriding the governor’s obstructive vetoes is the last, best way to address these critical issues.”

The override votes came one day after Evers sued the legislature over nearly $200 million that is attached to some of his vetoes.

Most of that money is the $125 million that’s supposed to go toward PFAS clean up in Wisconsin.

“For the fifth time this legislative session, I voted to provide Wisconsin families with the largest investment in clean drinking water in state history – five more times than every Democrat legislator in this state combined. The bill that Gov. Evers vetoed (SB 312) would have created a grant program that targets this critical funding to areas of the state most heavily impacted by PFAS contamination while protecting innocent landowners from financial ruin,” Sen Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said.

Evers has accused the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee of obstructing his plans to clean up Wisconsin’s drinking water, and of delaying his other actions across the state.

LeMahieu said Evers is simply playing the game.

“While Gov. Evers plays politics, the legislature will continue to do the right thing on behalf of the people of our state,” LeMahieu added.

Senate Democrats responded with game-playing accusations of their own.

“Coming in to do all these veto overrides was clearly a stunt to try to appeal to voters ahead of the fall election,” Den. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said. “Clearly Republicans were hearing from things in their district and wanted political cover. I don't think they got political cover today. I think what they got was people realizing just how afraid they are.”

But Tuesday’s veto overrides are largely symbolic.

While Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate have a veto-proof majority, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly do not.

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Trump Holds Lead Over Biden Heading Toward November

With less than half a year until the 2024 presidential election, former President Donald Trump holds a sizable lead over incumbent President Joe Biden in several swing states.

While the overall national polling varies and shows a tighter race, Trump holds significant leads in several swing states.

According to Real Clear Politics, Trump leads in a slew of key battleground states like Arizona (+5.2), Georgia (+4.6), Michigan (+0.8), Nevada (+6.2), North Carolina (+5.4), Pennsylvania (+2.0), and Wisconsin (+0.6).

Other polling has shown Trump with a dominant lead in the Sun Belt while performing less well against Biden in some rust belt swing states.

“As the old saying goes, good gets better and bad gets worse, and it’s clear President Biden is in bad shape right now,” Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and co-founder of South and Hill Strategies, told The Center Square. “Five and a half months is an eternity in politics, and there’s theoretically still time to right the ship, but it’s getting late early for the president, especially when Father Time remains undefeated and doubts about his age continue to grow. “

According to the Real Clear Politics’ national polling average, Trump leads Biden 46.1% to 44.9%.

A New York Times poll released this week showed leads for Trump in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania but slightly trailing Biden in Wisconsin, raising concerns among supporters.

Trump’s lead has been in large part fueled by minority voters flocking to his side.

Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating has plummeted since taking office. While that is not unusual for incumbents, Biden’s approval is lower than recent presidents.

Gallup recently released polling data showing that in the 13th quarter of Biden’s presidency, he averaged a 38.7% approval rating, worse than Trump at the same time in his term.

“None of the other nine presidents elected to their first term since Dwight Eisenhower had a lower 13th-quarter average than Biden,” Gallup said.

Axios reported this week that Biden and his team think the polls don’t represent Americans’ actual feelings and that the president’s position is strong.

“They're still 50% (well 45%) to win, per betting markets,” pollster Nate Silver wrote on X. “But Biden has been behind Trump in polls for a year now. His approval is in the tank, and voters have been clear they think he's too old. If Trump wins, history will not remember Biden kindly.”

Meanwhile, Trump spends valuable campaign time in a series of court appearances for his myriad of federal prosecution court dates.

“I’m under a gag order,” Trump told reporters after a court appearance Tuesday. “Nobody has actually seen anything like it ... I'm beating him in every poll and I have a gag order, so I think it's totally unconstitutional."

Republicans have blasted Biden for Trump’s prosecution, accusing Biden of using the Justice Department against his political opponent.

“Despite Far Left Democrats’ illegal election interference, President Trump is beating Joe Biden in the polls!” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., wrote on X Tuesday. “Voters see right through the sham Biden Trials and know President Trump is the best choice for president.”

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