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Protests against Walker plan set

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
February 17, 2011

The Edgerton School District is closed today, and other local districts are bracing for student walkouts and widespread teacher absences today and Friday as local students and teachers plan to demonstrate in a show of displeasure with Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, officials said.


Area school administrators went on alert after a high number of Madison teachers called in sick Wednesday, forcing the Madison School District to cancel school.


Madison schools are closed again today, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday night.


Edgerton School Board member Matt Towns, who also is a parent in the district, said he got an automated phone call at 9 p.m. Wednesday telling parents that schools would be closed today because of the large number of staff absences expected. The notice said staff members were to report to school.


A bus is leaving Edgerton for Madison early this morning, said Jen Maier, a second grade teacher at Edgerton's Community Elementary School.


"Personally, it was not an easy decision at all," Maier said late Wednesday night.


"It's hard knowing we're putting our families in a position with no alternatives but to pay for extra day care. Not that it would be easier for families of middle school or high school kids."


At least 40 Edgerton students had planned an hour-long walkout today and were circulating a petition opposing Walker's proposal, which seeks to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees statewide.


Scott Greenler, 16, an Edgerton High School junior and an organizer of the walkout, said students planned to give speeches decrying the negative impact they think the proposal would have on public schools.


"We feel that this bill makes Wisconsin a less preferable state for teachers to work. We want the best teachers, not the cheapest teachers," Greenler said.


Late Wednesday night, it was not clear if Edgerton students still planned to demonstrate.


The Milton School Board on Wednesday met in an emergency session over the specter of widespread teacher absences today and Friday after the district learned its teachers union planned a vote on a mass "sick out" suggested by the Wisconsin Education Association Council.


WEAC had asked teachers to take a sick day today to attend protests in Madison opposing Walker's proposal.


Milton teachers union President Michael Dorn said the union Wednesday afternoon voted overwhelmingly against backing the "sick out."


The board ruled Wednesday that any teacher absent today or Friday without a medical excuse or proof of a serious circumstance would have his or her pay docked.


Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said the district planned to send the union an amended notice of the board's ruling striking language that threatened disciplinary action for teachers missing work this week.


Nikolay said the language was in an earlier draft of the ruling, and the board had decided against any such sanctions.


In the Parkview School District, student and teacher attendance has been normal, but Superintendent Steve Lutzke agreed to provide up to 10 substitute teachers today so some teachers could represent their colleagues in Madison. That's provided the rest of the teachers show up for work, he said.


"I'm just concerned we'd have what happened in Madison," he said, referring to the cancellation of school forced by teacher absences.


"I want them (teachers) to understand I share their concern, but I also know they understand we need to have school (today)," he said. "This is a fair compromise."


Parkview teachers went to protest in Madison on Tuesday night, with more planning to attend Wednesday night, he said.


At Evansville High School, officials said staff attendance has been normal. Thirteen students, however, walked out during lunch Wednesday under protest, said Principal Scott Everson. He said the students were just trying to get out of class.


The students did not protest outside the building but left school grounds, he said.


Students at Beloit Turner High School on Wednesday planned a walkout for the second half of the day today, sophomore Hayley Morgan said. The idea was sparked during a U.S. history class, Morgan said. On Tuesday, 100 students said they would participate, she said.


An automated phone call from the district to Turner parents Wednesday night said the district does not support the plan. Any students who participated would be forbidden from attending the winter formal Snowball Dance, according to the message.



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