Saturday, February 18, 2012

WI Elementary School Confiscates, Bans 2nd Grader’s Christian-Themed Valentines

Exactly who would be harmed by them was not explained

Dexter Thielhelm, a second-grader at James Madison Elementary School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had a simple message for his classmates: “Jesus loves you.” The young boy had worked diligently with his mother and siblings to create candy and notes for his friends at school, as he filled empty water bottles with candy and a rolled-up a Bible verse (John 3:16) to share with his classmates. But earlier this week, to the surprise of the boy and his family, school officials confiscated the valentines before they could be handed out.

Apparently, it is district policy that Christian valentines not be distributed — a message that Melissa Wolf, Dexter’s mother, received when she met with principal Matthew Driscoll this week. The verse, ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” was apparently too religious in nature for the school to allow to be disseminated.

Wolf, 30, who has spoken out to media outlets, says that she’s not happy with the way in which the principal handled the situation. Driscoll, however, declined to comment to media on Wednesday.

“He wishes I would have asked him for permission to hand out this questionable material,” Wolf explained, describing her interaction with the principal. “I did not get an apology. I got an apology that he didn’t call me; I didn’t get an apology for taking this away from my children. He sat and listened to me kindly, and heard the things that made me upset.”

Here’s the really intriguing element to the story. Wolf has two other children at the same school. Both of whom are autistic and nonverbal. These children made similar valentines and they, too, were confiscated. But one of her other children who attends a different school — a local charter institution — handed his notes out without a hitch, the Wausau Daily Herald reports.

While Wolf is clearly frustrated by the situation, the district’s assistant superintendent, Mark Holzman, addressed the issues and attempted to explain the rationale behind the confiscation. The district doesn‘t have a specific policy that bans religious verses being handed out on Valentine’s Day, he said, but the young age of the children was one of the primary reasons he cited (i.e. the students aren’t old enough to understand the religious message).

The district also had concerns that the Christian content could lead others with negative messages to also distribute to fellow classmates. After all, once one person is allowed to hand out a message, any individual can then tout his or her values, Holzman argued.

“Otherwise we would be allowing anybody to give out personal messages or values,” Holzman explained. “If somebody wanted to put anti-Semitism in there … people would be outraged by that. If kids have a choice, it’s a different scenario. But in this case we’re talking about handing it out to everyone in the class, and they don’t have a choice.”

Wolf says that, though the school attempted to explain to Dexter why the valentines couldn’t be handed out, he was embarrassed and confused by the incident.


Entitlements for Teachers

On Friday, I received an email from a local public school teacher who is also a Republican. The objections that she expressed were to me in my role as chairman of the Republican Party in the county where we both live. Her gemini memberships in the teachers union and the Grand Old Party make for an interesting antithetic. So, I figured that I would respond to her concerns in the form of a cogitative Townhall article. Here is the set up:

In 2009, Douglas County, Colorado elected a conservative school board, reflecting its conservative predilection and 2-to-1 Republican over Democratic registration. The members of this board are parents, thoughtful citizens, and all accomplished professionals.

These seven citizens quickly made it apparent to everyone that their intentions were far more substantive than having local celebrity status. In two years' time, they have reduced spending by over $40 million, replaced the superintendent, crafted a merit pay plan, and implemented a voucher program (challenged in court by the ACLU).

Here is the email that I received, followed by my response:

I am very disheartened by what is going on in the DC school district, particularly the school board. I am a registered republican and a school teacher in the district and I feel they are hiding behind the republican party to get their agenda of pushing vouchers. And then they blame it on the union. I am proud to say that our schools are very good schools and have always had a good reputation and have performed well on state tests. However with this republican school board, they have pushed for vouchers for private education.

I can understand this concept if we were a failing school district. But what it is doing is dismantling the cohesiveness of the schools. By pushing their voucher agenda, they are portraying to the general public that the public schools are inadequate. Also, because of this, they are misrepresenting what many of my republican friends believe in, in public education. I am seriously considering changing my party affiliation from the republican party to the independent party as a result of all this nonsense going on with DC schools. It's very discouraging as a veteran teacher to see what is happening in our district and I know many of my republican friends feel the same way. Tax dollars should go for public education, not private education!

Dear Disheartened in Douglas,

Thank you for expressing your views. As a Republican, I am certain that you identify with most of the party platform. And as a public school teacher, it is understandable that your views on education would be influenced by the culture in which you work. What stands out to your fellow Republicans in reading your letter is that, in the entire 220 words, there is not a single mention of concern for what the customer desires.

In most other business transactions, you are a customer. Let's take restaurants, for instance. Would you be satisfied with notion that your personal dining budget is devoted to the public school cafeteria? That is not to say that cafeteria food is in any way undesirable. But the choice has been made for you and that is what you get. That is what everyone gets. Every day. Only the wealthy have enough money to spend beyond the taxes they already paid for dining to eat at a private restaurant.

In the case of public education, the primary customers are the parents. The secondary customers are the students. And who pays for your salary, your pension, the buildings and the buses? The voters, of course. When the voters selected the current school board members, they saw which candidates were endorsed by the union and which candidates were endorsed by the Republican Party. And the voters overwhelmingly selected these seven board members because they promised to create an education environment that would include competitive choices for parents.

Nearly every resident of Douglas County, including the parents of school aged children, works within the setting of free enterprise. And nearly every student who passes through the Douglas County School District will work within the free market, not funded by taxes. Would it not seem fitting that the professionals who are tasked with preparing students to thrive in capitalism should celebrate private enterprise?

The source of your internal struggle is captured in your final statement. As a Republican, you would normally have an aversion to entitlements. Yet as a teacher, your personal livelihood is dependent on the ever-reducing funds for public education. While the emotions are understandable, I would assert to you that there is only one group of people who are entitled to the education tax money provided by the residents; the students themselves. In a free society, education is the great equalizer for opportunity. We choose to tax everyone in order to educate the youth. We do not choose to tax everyone in order to ensure that the government is sufficiently funded to provide instructions to America's children.

Private construction companies compete for tax dollars to build roads and bridges. Corporate defense contractors compete for tax dollars to create weapon systems. Even faith based organizations compete for tax dollars to provide human services. Government funding does not necessitate government delivery. I see nothing other than liberal arrogance that would place such authority of the service provider above the service consumer.

In response to your threat of leaving the Republican Party, let me make this appeal. The union values you for your dues, 70% of which goes directly to the Democratic Party (see my article here). We value your gifts and talents as you make an enormous difference preparing young Americans to thrive as capitalists in a free society.


Insane British Leftist idea scrapped: Penalty for paying off student loan early is lifted

Students will not be penalised for repaying university loans early after David Cameron scrapped a Liberal Democrat plan to raise more money from the middle classes.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, had intended to introduce an early repayment penalty which would have cost graduates thousands of pounds if they cleared their debts within 30 years of leaving university.

The Prime Minister is understood to have dropped the scheme earlier this week amid warnings that it would be unfair on the hundreds of thousands of people expected to repay their loans early. The deal was agreed after Mr Cameron backed down and allowed Mr Cable to appoint the controversial Prof Les Ebdon as the Government’s new university admissions tsar.

A Downing Street source said: “The Lib Dems were very keen to appoint Ebdon and we felt very strongly about penalties for early repayment of loans. This is hopefully good news for tens of thousands of families, as well as many Conservative MPs who had raised concerns about the penalties.”

From this September, students will be charged up to £9,000 annually to study at university in England and Wales. They will be offered loans of more than £16,000 a year to cover tuition and living expenses.

Once a graduate earns more than £21,000 a year he or she will repay the equivalent of nine per cent of their earnings. The higher their salary, the more interest they will pay, up to a maximum of inflation plus three percentage points for those earning more than £41,000.

The system was designed as a form of “graduate tax” so that those benefiting most from a university education would repay most.

But to stop wealthier graduates, or those assisted by their parents, from opting out of the “progressive” system, it was planned that they would face a levy of five per cent of the value of early repayments.

Someone repaying a £40,000 loan early could have had to pay a penalty of £2,000. The Government has said previously: “It is important that those on the higher incomes are not able unfairly to buy themselves out of the progressive mechanism.”

Over the past decade, 225,000 people have made early repayments even though the interest on student loans is currently in line with inflation. When interest for top earners is higher, there will be an even greater incentive for early repayments. Large firms are expected to offer to repay loans for their best recruits.

Some parents had been concerned about their offspring facing a lifetime of debt from university – and there were reports that they would borrow money themselves to fund the fees, so Mr Cameron’s intervention is likely to be welcomed.

The Treasury is also thought to have backed the scrapping of penalties as it is expected to lead to government loans to students being repaid more quickly.

However, despite the climbdown over early repayment penalties there are still growing concerns over the imminent appointment of Prof Ebdon as the new director of fair access. One senior Conservative source said: “The scrapping of repayment penalties is very welcome but it’s still not a great political deal as Ebdon has the potential to do real damage to our country’s education system.”

Tory MPs are urging Mr Cameron to overrule Mr Cable and reopen the search for a new admissions watchdog.

Prof Ebdon, the University of Bedfordshire’s vice-chancellor, has defended degrees in “soft” subjects such as media studies and fashion design, and angered traditionalists with his blunt attitude towards widening the student intake at highly academic universities.

He has said he would be prepared to ban universities that miss their admissions targets from charging the maximum tuition fees.

Barnaby Lenon, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council and a former headmaster of Harrow School, warned that the reputation of leading universities must be preserved.

“The fact is that British universities are among the best in the world and I personally believe that one of the reasons for that is because entry to these universities has been by straightforward competition and selection,” he said.

Dr Cable will confirm Prof Ebdon as the new director of fair access next week.


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