Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, July 19

Schools should follow science, strive to open this fall

Public schools across Wisconsin should open as soon as safely possible this fall. And the top priority should be doing what’s best for our kids.

Significantly, the American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

Science is on the side of bringing students back to school buildings, despite the pandemic. That’s because “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being,” according to the AAP. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures.”

That includes social isolation, abuse, depression and hunger.

Unfortunately, the Madison School District announced Friday it will offer online classes only this fall — despite six or seven weeks to go before the fall semester begins. By then, a lot could change with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Dane County recently and wisely implemented a mask requirement for inside buildings that aren’t people’s homes. That should help ease the spread of COVID-19, making it safer for in-person classes.

The AAP recently stressed that “the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting” from COVID-19. They also appear less likely to contract and spread the infection.

The Madison teachers union last week demanded online classes only until Dane County goes at least 14 straight days without new COVID-19 cases. That might be best for older teachers with underlying health conditions making them more susceptible to the pandemic. But it’s definitely not best for our children. The district should reject such a rigid standard that fails to consider the needs of our broader community.

Lower-income students, who are disproportionately of color, are less likely to succeed with online schooling if they have fewer resources at home — and if their parents can’t work remotely because of front-line jobs.

The Madison School Board should have waited to see how COVID-19 plays out this summer. That’s what other school districts, such as Chicago, are doing. It’s possible the plan that Madison schools outlined to parents recently could have worked in September. That called for half of students to attend two days of in-person classes each week, with the other half of students attending two different days.

Instead, the Madison district announced Friday — just a day after the teachers union made its unrealistic demand — that all classes will be virtual for at least the first quarter.

To help protect students and teachers who return to school, the AAP urges face masks for older students, social distancing and other precautions. Adult staff in high-risk categories for COVID-19 should be granted reasonable accommodations.

But school districts across Wisconsin should lean toward opening their buildings. Public Health Madison and Dane County’s current health orders, which are stricter than most of the state, allow schools to open for in-person classes. Nordic countries in Europe successfully opened their schools months ago — or never closed — and haven’t experienced widespread outbreaks.

Madison’s online-only plans shouldn’t become the model for the rest of the state.


The Capital Times, Madison, July 15

Dane County should reopen the debate about the jail and criminal justice reform

Dane County Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle is thinking big about criminal justice reform, and city and county officials would be well-advised to join her in doing so.

Doyle, a former Verona City Council president who now represents downtown Madison on the county board, is proposing a comprehensive response to the issues that cities and counties across the country have focused on in the aftermath of the killing in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd.

“Dane County has the opportunity to challenge the systemic racism and racial disparities in our criminal justice system and in our community,” Doyle, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s La Follette School of Public Affairs with a long record of leadership on policy and planning issues, said.

In the face of a sustained outcry over police brutality and demands for racial justice, Doyle noted that “many stakeholders throughout the county have risen to the occasion by implementing changes that have shown that we can improve the criminal justice system.” With this in mind, she argues that it is imperative that for the county board to take time to evaluate these changes and the implications this has on a host of concerns — including plans to develop new jail facilities.

To that end, Doyle has introduced an ambitious resolution for “Addressing Systemic Racism in the Dane County Criminal Justice System and Investing in Alternatives to Incarceration Outside of Law Enforcement.”

Among other things, it calls for an immediate halt to “all planning, design, architecture, and construction of a new jail facility.”

That’s a controversial proposal because the board has already approved plans to spend $148 million to update and consolidate the county’s jail facilities. Last year’s debate over jail funding revolved around issues of overcrowding in the existing jail, which many argued could only be addressed by construction of the new quarters. To his credit, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney put a focus on creating a more humane facility that would have mental health and medical beds and be a safer environment for inmates.

But a lot has changed since last year. Since the coronavirus hit, understandings of what is possible have shifted.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic Dane County has shown that it can substantially lower the jail population,” argues Doyle, who notes that the sheriff reduced the jail population by 40% in the first month of the crisis.

Doyle’s resolution suggests that, instead of moving forward with the jail project, “preliminary plans be developed to use the office space in the Public Safety Building for additional jail beds and assessment of remote hospital sites and community based recovery sites to handle mental health needs of residents take place to address inhumane conditions in the current facility.”

We think Doyle’s proposal has merit. But we recognize that there will be resistance to it.

What we know is that the proposals to open up a broader debate about criminal justice reform are healthy and necessary. We’ve been impressed by the work of Supervisor Shelia Stubbs and Board Chair Analiese Eicher, who have introduced a 14-part package of reform initiatives. The comprehensive reform package by Stubbs, who also also serves in the state Assembly, and Eicher is not yet at the point where their board would vote on individual initiatives or the entire package. As it advances, we’ll have more to say about it.

Attention to Doyle’s proposal has largely focused on her call for an immediate halt to work on the jail project, which is understandable.

Whether county board members support or oppose the jail project, they should welcome a reopening of the discussion. This is a time for rethinking assumptions about criminal justice, for reexamining past choices and for reworking strategies for addressing challenges facing the county. The debate may not end in a decision to scrap all the plans for a new facility, but it could alter them. Just as importantly, it could get county officials focused on fresh approaches that reduce the incarceration rate and alter the role of law enforcement in Madison and Dane County.

Doyle’s resolution puts a lot of ideas on the table, including initiatives that would:

1. Add representatives of communities of color to the Criminal Justice Council;

2. Implement virtual weekend court to lower jail population and prevent unnecessary incarceration of lower income residents;

3. Eliminate the Huber program and transfer treatment and monitoring functions to the Dane County Human Services Department, as is done in La Crosse County;

4. Develop sentences that limit incarceration and instead focus on restorative justice that help victims and the community;

5. Dramatically reduce the use of the Dane County jail for the housing of probation and parole holds and urge the state to speed up their own adjudication and eliminate jail time for minor probation and parole offenses;

6. Review charging and sentencing decisions against leading practices nationally in order to reduce the amount of jail time recommended;

7. Lower the Average Length of Stay (ALS) and enforce time standards on in custody cases;

8. Prioritize the writing of tickets instead of jail for minor offenses by local law enforcement;

9. Create inventory of local law enforcement use of force policies throughout the county;

10. Change the incentive system in the criminal justice system from punitive to restorative by providing transparency in the criminal justice system. Publish racial disparity and incarceration statistics on the Dane County website for all actors in the criminal justice system. Begin by publishing incarceration statistics including racial disparity statistics for all Dane County judges.

11. Continue to increase the use of electronic monitoring beyond the current number;

12. Increase the use of restorative courts and implement a mental health court to divert mental health cases.

“This is an opportunity to work with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system to make positive changes for our community moving forward,” Doyle said. “We can build on proven examples and models by shifting from traditional criminal justice systems to human service based models to support these changes.”

The opportunity that Doyle recognizes is real. Her county board colleagues should give this proposal full and serious consideration.


The Journal Times of Racine, July 19

Howell will leave a lasting legacy

This month, Racine Police Chief Art Howell announced his plans to retire at the end of 2020 after 36 years with the department and eight years as chief.

During Howell’s time with the force, the City of Racine has seen a significant drop in violent crime: During a recent presentation with the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform, Howell showed that the city in 2019 had the lowest violent crime rate in 55 years. He’s also credited with the continued growth of community policing in Racine, which is now held up as a national model.

While Howell is set to retire, his legacy will live on indefinitely.

Howell grew up in Racine and graduated as part of the class of 1980 from Case High School. He joined the force in 1984 at the age of 22 and was a member of the anti-gang unit.

After a few years, Howell was promoted to a traffic investigator, then in 1993 at the age of 31, was promoted to investigator. A few years later, Howell was promoted to sergeant and became the department’s public information officer, providing comment on investigations in high profile cases. Howell was also involved in a wide range of community-facing initiatives, such as the development and growth of community policing.

In 2006 he was promoted to deputy chief, before being appointed chief in 2012.

His career is one that others should look to emulate and should serve as a positive example for youth living in Racine.

It’s one thing to protest about change. It’s another to take the next step, get a degree in criminal justice and apply to become a police officer in Racine.

Following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police and ensuing protests, Howell stated in a commentary, “During this defining moment, our collective commitment and strategic engagement will be necessary if we are to emerge whole as a community and as a nation.”

He continued by saying, “The challenge before us is significant, but not insurmountable … For those who yet wonder where we go from here, the time to act is now. In the spirit of Dr. Thelma Orr, we can all participate. Whether your actions are large or small, we must each do something productive, do something authentic and do quickly and most notably, do something together.”

The next police chief, whoever that person is, will have a lot of challenges ahead of them.

But that next chief will be starting off with the solid base Howell has established, which previous chiefs built for him.

We join the community in thanking Howell for his 36 years of service.