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Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

Melrose-Mindoro's Katie Christopherson shoots during a nonconference game against West Salem. The Mustangs are the No. 2 seed in the WIAA Division 4 state tournament this weekend, the first appearance in the state tournament for the program.

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'Complete crazy talk': La Crosse area school officials unimpressed by talk of arming teachers

Local school officials aren’t exactly enthusiastic about President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm “highly trained teachers” to stop mass school shootings.


“I think it’s a really bad idea to add more firearms to the situation,” said West Salem School District Superintendent Troy Gunderson. “It’s complete crazy talk.”

Trump made his comments in the wake of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 14 students and three school employees dead.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has also said he’s open to the idea of arming teachers and several state Republican lawmakers have indicated a willingness to consider the proposal. But Gunderson is not impressed by the push to arm teachers.

The idea that teachers should be armed and ready to deal with a shooter devalues the work of police officers who receive years of specialized training, Gunderson added.

“The cynic in me says this is about the gun industry thinking they can make money by producing a gun model for teachers,” he said. “How about we get to the solution where we make guns less available and get better at identifying the people that are a risk for doing something like this.”

The general debate around increasing security measures at school saddens Gunderson, who wants schools to be community centers where all are welcome.

“It breaks my heart that we’re talking about metal detectors and security instead of serving children in poverty and discussing strategies to help children read,” he said.


Expecting teachers to have to think about taking out a shooter in addition to the many other responsibilities they already shoulder is a big ask, said Bangor School District superintendent Dave Laehn.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount on teachers’ plates to start with,” he said. “To put this on them is something that needs a lot more discussion before being considered.”

Like Gunderson, Laehn wasn’t enthusiastic about adding more guns to the equation.

“I believe that our schools should be a safe place and just the idea of arming teachers and administrators goes against that whole philosophy,” he said.

State Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, proposed a bill to allow weapons in private schools that want them as a pilot project. It could be expanded to public schools if it proves worthwhile, he said.


Ted Knutson, president of Aquinas Catholic Schools in La Crosse and Onalaska, said he doesn’t want guns on the campuses, although he stressed that is his opinion and not a formal position of the system’s board.

“I am not in favor of guns in schools,” Knutson said during an interview Wednesday. “I would not have a problem with a greater presence of law enforcement in schools.”

Although Aquinas High and Middle schools and the elementary schools in the system do not have police officers on campus, as many public schools do, city police officers present programs in the schools, and neighborhood resource officers check in periodically, he said.

“These are tough times, and doing nothing is not the strategy to use,” Knutson said.

Fran Finco

If a bill passed providing the option, and it didn’t cost the schools additional money, “then we’d have to have that discussion,” said Fran Finco, superintendent of the Onalaska School District.

Any such talks would have to include not only the school board but the entire community, Finco said.

“What does that mean? Put somebody with a gun at every door?” he said.

Access during regular school hours already is restricted to those who have an entry fob or are buzzed in, he said.

“Another thing that people probably don’t think about is that the locks come off after school,” Finco said. “Where’s the security for intramural programs” and other after- and before-school programs?

“The unfortunate thing is why is it a societal problem that schools have to fix?” he said.

Lalisha Olson, Holmen school district’s student services coordinator, said the district wanted to concentrate on letting teachers do what they’re trained to do.

“We really want our teachers to focus on teaching,” she said. “They are trained to be educators and we want to maintain our focus on that.”

Remembering the victims of the Florida high school shooting

Remembering the victims of the Florida high school shooting

Opponents claim GPS monitoring violates civil rights; judges not so sure

U.S. courts have not yet reached a final conclusion on whether GPS monitoring violates the civil rights of offenders, who find the devices socially embarrassing, physically uncomfortable and intrusive.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that GPS constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. But the court declined to rule whether the search in dispute was “unreasonable” and therefore unconstitutional. It said such a determination can only be made considering the circumstances of the search and “the extent to which the search intrudes upon reasonable privacy expectations.”

“While GPS monitoring may pose an ‘inconvenience’ to these offenders,” said DOC spokesman Tristan Cook, “the state Legislature or DOC have determined that these tools enhance public safety and protect victims.”

A 2016 ruling on a Wisconsin case from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals allows the retroactive application of GPS monitoring to people who were sentenced before the state’s monitoring law was passed. In a case argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in February, offender DeAnthony Muldrow is asking to withdraw his guilty plea to sexual assault of a child under 16, saying he was not aware he would be subject to “onerous” lifetime GPS monitoring when he made that plea.

“There is a clear split in opinion as this is a relatively new area of the law,” according to the lawsuit. “Muldrow suggests that the more realistic view is that lifetime GPS is punitive considering the burden it places on those subject to it.”

Some experts, activists and groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that tracking offenders for life violates the rights of people who have fully served their sentences.

Researchers say Germany, for instance, has been very reluctant to use electronic monitoring because its corrections system is not overcrowded and the regular probation service works well without electronic monitoring. The Council of Europe, an international human rights organization, warns that electronic monitoring “is an intrusive measure which can violate basic human rights.”


Frieder Dünkel, a German researcher who studies electronic monitoring programs, said other programs in Europe employ the technology in a much more limited way than in the United States. Germany uses GPS monitoring on about 70 offenders in the entire country who are deemed a danger to the public.

“EM is only useful for a rather short period,” Dünkel said. “In Europe, we almost never use it for more than a couple months or a year, because it’s a really intrusive measure, into privacy, and so we would face a lot of compliance problems.”

In the 7th Circuit case, the three-judge panel reiterated that GPS monitoring is not punishment and can be justified on public protection grounds.

James Kilgore, a University of Illinois lecturer who spent about a year on electronic monitoring himself, does not see it that way.

“The biggest irony for me is that … more states are making it a felony to remove the device, felony escape,” Kilgore said. “And yet most of those states do not consider being on (electronic monitoring) with house arrest a form of incarceration. What are you escaping from if you’re not under arrest?”

Marc Renzema, founder of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, noted in a report that electronic monitoring “is now mainly about punishment on the cheap, not rehabilitation.” The journal focuses on monitoring technology and its use in enhancing public safety.

George Drake, president of Correct Tech LLC, an Albuquerque-based corrections technology consulting company, opposes lifetime tracking for practical reasons. As the numbers on tracking grows, resources to effectively track offenders typically do not.

“Also, there is usually no teeth for enforcing violations,” he said. “Therefore, they will likely be a low priority for an agency.”

Jordan Strauss 

Jordan Peele arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

After Parkland, even idle school threats get tough response

MINNEAPOLIS — Fifteen students in one Florida school district are facing felony charges and prison time for making alleged threats since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. Meanwhile, an autistic Minnesota high school student whose alleged threat led to a six-hour lockdown is in juvenile court and has received an outpouring of sympathy.

The Feb. 14 killings of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, have ignited a wave of copycat threats, as happens after nearly every high-profile school shooting. Most prove unfounded, but cause big disruptions to schools while tying up police for hours or even days.

Experts say authorities’ swift responses are underscoring a climate in which even idle threats will result in serious consequences.

“Kids make bad decisions and I think that in decades past those decisions would have been addressed behind closed doors with the principal and parents,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting company. “Now they’re being addressed behind closed doors in the police station and the courtroom.”

The Volusia County Schools system in east-central Florida isn’t taking chances. Sheriff Michael Chitwood made it clear he had a zero-tolerance policy as threats began after Parkland. On Thursday, he went further, saying students or their families would have to pay the costs of the investigations — at least $1,000 and sometimes much more.

District spokeswoman Nancy Wait said the message is clear: We’re not joking around.

“Unfortunately that word didn’t get to the students and we started seeing more students making threats in the classroom, and that was frightening to their classmates,” she said. “Most of the time these students didn’t have access to weapons, but they were still making threats to shoot up their schools.”

Don Bridges, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers and a veteran of 16 years on duty at Franklin High School in suburban Baltimore, said the number of threats goes down when districts send a strong message that they won’t be tolerated.

The Educator’s School Safety Network, which tracks reports of school threats and violent incidents across the country, has documented a spike since Parkland. The Ohio group counted 797 as of Sunday. Most (743) were for threats of various kinds, including gun and bomb threats. The threats were made mostly via social media (331) and verbally (119).

That amounts to about a sevenfold increase in the usual rate, director of programs Amy Klinger said.

“The mentality has shifted in a very short period of time from kids being kids to this is very serious stuff,” she said. She expects consequences of post-Parkland threats to be harsher than before.

“They almost have to be,” she said. “Do we want to do this for the rest of the school year? Do we want to have this constant chaos and fear, and people being upset? How much learning is going on?”

Tom Clark, a defense attorney in Santa Fe, New Mexico, represents a 14-year-old boy whose threat preceded Parkland but who faced tough consequences.

Clark said the boy had been having a bad day and wrote a list of people he wanted to shoot. After someone found the list in November, the boy, who had never been in trouble before, was jailed, facing hefty charges and a lifetime expulsion. He eventually was sentenced to probation.

“After the initial harsh reaction, at least the district attorney stepped back and the superintendent of schools stepped back and looked at it in a more compassionate light,” Clark said.

Probation officers worked with the boy to find an alternative program where he could attend school at night.

“No one wants to be the judge or the police officer or the security guard who doesn’t take action and something awful happens,” Clark said. “So the initial reactions are swift and harsh and then ultimately people are able to get a better handle on what’s going on with these children individually.”

It’s not clear yet what the consequences will be for an autistic boy whose social media threat to shoot up Orono High School in suburban Minneapolis prompted a lockdown Feb. 21 that kept students confined to classrooms for nearly six hours. Prosecutors won’t say what the charges are because it’s a juvenile case.

The community’s reaction was unusually sympathetic. Another student’s mother set up a GoFundMe campaign with the boy’s family’s permission that by Sunday was near its $40,000 goal to help cover the family’s legal and treatment expenses. Claire Wnuk Berrett wrote on the fundraising page that some kids on the autism spectrum don’t have the language or social skills to adequately express their needs.

“When verbal or written threats are made, they are usually an attempt to express the severity of the adolescent’s distress,” Berrett wrote. “It is not necessarily a true indication of a desire to hurt themselves or others. They do not have the social awareness to recognize this is the wrong thing to say.”

Principal David Benson said the outpouring shows, “We have a caring and supportive community for sure.”