Sunday, July 9, 2023

Bumpers, First Amendment Rights, and School District Culture

To Waukesha School Board members Mark Borowski, Bette Koenig, Karrie Kozlowski, Patrick McCaffery, Marquell Moorer, Kelly Piacsek, Diane Voit, David Wadd, and Anthony Zenobia

CC: Superintendent James Sebert and Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Gennerman

RE: Support for Melissa Tempel, First Amendment Rights, and Overall District Culture Review

I have been a parent in the district for 13 years and have worked in the district for several as well. My youngest will be a senior at South, where he chose to go after his experience in the STEM program. I am very impressed by what I've seen over the last three years and am glad he made that decision. His counselor Mr. Darling has been amazing and my son has come home several times with interesting things to talk about from some of his classes, including Dr. Freshwater’s.

The recent open resignation letters from South teachers including Dr. Freshwater, coupled with what I have seen as both a parent and employee through the years, tell an uncomfortable story that shouldn’t be.

Teachers are not robots- they are people.

Perceptions of and regulations for the promotion of robotic behaviors are both individually and communally destructive.

To me, laws and rules act as bumpers: they seek to help us all stay on a roadway heading toward a common goal. I believe the common goal in a school is to create well-adjusted children who learn facts and skills to become constructive members of society, capable of working within that society. All those individuals out there.

Cooks. Welders. Parents. Butchers. Pastors. Computer programmers. Nurses. Small business owners. Soccer players. Singers. YouTubers.

While a public school district is a public entity, it’s also a workplace. I believe anyone would agree with me that a healthy workplace, one that people stick with and work hard within, is one that makes them feel valued and appreciated.

The bumpers within a school district need to support EVERYONE involved. I have developed a deep hatred for the mantra of “Do it for the kids” due to my discovery that many teachers here and across the country have absorbed that phrase in such a way that its actual meaning is “Keep your head down and just sacrifice yourself- physically and mentally”. They feel they must stand stoically and say nothing to anyone about anything. I personally know some who even refused to speak out about a principal because they feared losing their jobs. That person ended up not able to complete their first year in the school, but not before a contract extension was given.

My guess is that the entire situation ended up being both a financially and mentally expensive one. One that could have ended differently had there not been a lot of fear.

I feel the need to mention another phrase that angers me. The phrase “Right to work state”. The original meaning was that employees didn’t HAVE to join workplace unions. Today, for many people it means “You don’t like the rules and requirements in place? Leave. We’ll find someone who will do it. No discussion.”. I see many connections between these two phrases and the situation we find ourselves in within the district today.

My point? Yes, we need bumpers within the district to make sure an employee is not spouting off about or promoting something truly destructive and there’s no way to stop them. But we also need to have trust in each other. We need ways to help someone after they hit a bumper so they can keep going down the road with us. Rainbowland was never going to be truly destructive.

This teacher should not lose her job over this. In fact, it was an opportunity to grow.

Yes, we need rules. But rules sometimes need to be adjusted to reflect the road we really want to be on, too. The future we really want. Trying to make professional people into robots isn’t my idea of a great future. In fact, I question who was responsible for the robot design?

I believe the overall district culture and rules need to be sat down with. Let’s go back to our common goal. I believe it’s to create well-adjusted children who learn facts and skills to become constructive members of society, capable of working within that society.