The Holmen School Board took the first step Monday night to correct what its members say was a well-meaning but ill-advised decision to eliminate a memorial wall at Holmen High School.
The board decided to form a committee to create a policy surrounding memorials in the Holmen School District.
“When we mess up, I think we are quick to admit it,” school board President Cheryl Hancock said. “We are quick to learn from things. Policies matter. The lack of a policy, something to guide us in this decision-making, . . . but this is a prime example of where a policy would have helped us. A policy, again, can help us in the future.”
The action resulted after school district parents whose children were memorialized on a wall at the high school objected to the removal of the wall.
The wall bearing plaques of students who passed away while attending high school, along with some alumni, is being demolished as part of the high school’s renovation project.
The parents were told the plaques would not be replaced and the parents could pick them up or the school district could mail their children’s plaques.
School board member Gary Dunlap stated he thought the decision regarding the memorial wall “was a terrible, terrible mistake and we need to right it.”
“It’s been there a long, long time,” Dunlap said. “I don’t know what the reason was to change something that wasn’t broke. It is what it is; we’ll make it better.”
The letter sent to parents stated, “While the district wants to support students and staff who are grieving a loss, memorials can be an ongoing reminder of a traumatic event and can be impossible for students to avoid when located on district property or included in school-wide events.”
Thirteen members of the Holmen community appeared in person to comment on the decision to eliminate the memorial wall. The individuals were alumni, students and former school district staff. More input was presented through letters submitted for consideration.
Several giving input asked why the wall was being eliminated when other memorials such as trees, benches and Empire Stadium were still allowed to stand.
One parent remarked she didn’t know about the wall and she felt her daughter’s photo qualified to be a part of the memorial.
Hancock admitted the action ended up hurting people in the community. At one time, she was seen dabbing at her eyes as a parent talked about her child.
Kyle Patzner, a Holmen High School alumnus, said the photos of the deceased not only heartened and inspired, they continue to teach and guide students. He related how the senseless death of a close friend reminded his classmates the importance of making mindful decisions in their lives.
School board student representative Trenton Davig Huesmann commented he’s never heard fellow students say the wall traumatized them. He believed the memorial played a role in the school’s efforts to help students develop life skills beyond academics.
“High school is also used to teach future adults about life and lessons . . .,” said Davig Huesmann, “and don’t shy away from the hard topics to speak about what we’re missing. I never heard students talking bad about the wall.. . . a place that respects and honor those who have been taken.”
Other members of the public stressed the deceased were still part of the School District of Holmen family.
“Please find a way to remember fallen Vikings,” Brenda Peterson said. “They are part of our school, none the less.”
During the discussion to form the policy committee, Hancock said she and school district administrator Kristin Mueller would seek members to serve on it and would keep the rest of the board updated on its progress.
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