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Monday, October 21, 2013

Wausau School Board Reverses Christmas Decision

I don't know how all of this will play out politically and we'll probably disagree on quite a bit. But I want you to know that your family and your children are precious to me. I see your kindness and affection for one another. I know that there aren't so many of you in the area. I can relate to that in some ways. I don't know if I'll be a part of the committee being formed to discuss this matter further, but I want you to know above all that I will always stand with your families for the safety and dignity of your children.





Five great questions of life: Life * Love * Learning * Labor * Leadership

Leadership: What Difference Will I Make?

Wausau School Board Reverses Christmas Decision

By Evan Nehring

Before you read this post, published recently by the Wisconsin Christian News, I want to state clearly how I feel about the Jewish families living in and around Wausau. I have come to know many families who are members of the local synagogue. They have been kind to me. We talk. I see family mementos around their offices. I've met many of their children. I'm thankful for all of them.

I bumped into a Jewish friend at work a few days after the school board meeting on October 10th. We hadn't sat so far apart that night. I told her something like this:

I don't know how all of this will play out politically and we'll probably disagree on quite a bit. But I want you to know that your family and your children are precious to me. I see your kindness and affection for one another. I know that there aren't so many of you in the area. I can relate to that in some ways. I don't know if I'll be a part of the committee being formed to discuss this matter further, but I want you to know above all that I will always stand with your families for the safety and dignity of your children.

She was emotional, and thankful. I meant it. However the details of faith in our schools work out, I choose to be part of the Christian community that blesses people of other faiths or no faith.

Now, the article...

Wausau School Board Meeting, October 10, 2013

“This is about the children in those programs learning the music. I can’t understand for the life of me how we could let this happen.” Those are the words of Nathan Rusch, piano accompanist for the Wausau West choirs under Director Phil Buch. Mr. Rusch asked the capacity crowd at the Wausau East Auditorium to honor Mr. Buch with a silent standing ovation as Mr. Rusch left the auditorium to be with his friend. This was not a concert evening. Tonight the city showed up for public comment at an expanded Wausau School Board meeting.

Why such drama in Wausau tonight? It’s all because of Christmas music, or should I say winter music? No, I shouldn't, but these are the parallel issues bringing Wausau notoriety. First, months ago, came the announcement from the school district that all musical selections chosen by Buch for the Wausau West Master Singers must now be approved by an oversight committee. Then came the announcement that all elementary school winter concerts in the district would be moved to the spring to provide a more “summative educational experience.”

Mr. Buch said no thanks. “This group sings at Christmas programs. We sing for nursing homes, grade schools, businesses. To do that without Christmas music doesn’t make sense.” The school district offered some unacceptable alternatives to do with leaving out religious music or limiting the ratio to one religious song per four or five secular songs. Just plug it into a formula, right? Am I hinting that musical excellence isn't served when the director is reduced to a performing monkey? Yes, I am.
One by one, the public rose to comment. Forty-seven in all. Four and a half hours in all.
  • Of all the people from whom you would take away Christmas concerts, why would you take them from the ones who love them most: the elementary students and the Master Singers? Superintendent Williams, we need transparent discussion with the community, not private legal conferences and issued decrees. - Meg Ellefson
  • I’m offended that my tax dollars would be used to hire legal counsel like this. – Mary Kowatch
  • Music educators support the inclusion of religious music. I recommend we don’t tie the hands of our legislators with restrictive regulations. – Julie Burgess, nearby DC Everest Music Teacher

It was a love fest for Phil Buch. Over and over, Wausau residents praised the excellence and integrity of this beloved music teacher.
  • Choir was always a safe place for all types of students. This program is not broken. Don’t try to fix it. – Amy Penniman
  • I am an atheist. I am the person this measure is meant to protect and I am begging you to reverse it. In this difficult time, I have found nothing but love from Phil Buch and fellow choralers. – Thomas Moberg, Wausau West student
  • This man is the Vince Lombardi of music in Wisconsin. – Parent of Buch’s music students
There was so much more. The community showed up. They talked about important things like faith, politics, love of family and love of community. There was very little back and forth. It was mostly the School Board and Superintendent Kathleen Williams respectfully and directly getting it back.
  • We need to draw a line, not in the sand, but in Wausau red granite. This is the line. You’ve crossed it. You need to cross back. – Bruce Trueblood
  • Wausau is one of the most religious areas of our state. Stay in touch with community values. This community says, “We woke up one morning and what was happening wasn’t what we thought was happening.” – Julaine Appling, Director of Wisconsin Family Action
  • The superintendent’s role is to advise the school board. The board’s role is to make policy. I challenge the board to undertake an immediate review of the performance of the superintendent. – Dr. James Engel, Sr. Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church
The public hearing scene from the movie Footloose didn’t have a tenth the impact of this night. The people realized something very special was at stake.
  • Your civil rights were almost trampled. Good for you for being here. Once we crumble to the fear of a lawsuit, we’ve lost everything. Dr. Susan Messerly
  • I had a number of teachers tell me they dare not sign this petition because they might face repercussions. Education and censorship are anathema to one another. We have one of the finest music programs that exists and we’re taking a shot at it. – Dr. Jeff Hinds

Mike Laliberte’s 96-year-old dad called him and asked him what the ---- is going on in Wausau? He survived on a navy ship in Pearl Harbor. “I didn’t serve in the military and see all those men die to see people ashamed of religion. And I don’t want it to be called a holiday concert. It’s a Christmas concert.”

That was the story. The people came. By the hundreds they spoke and cheered and made their presence known. They stood with the tall constitutional standing of citizens. The school board closed the evening with a few motions in response. The motion to reverse the recent district oversight policy change was unanimously approved. The motion to form a committee to create a new policy with broad input from the families and leaders of the community was also unanimously approved. Added to the agenda for the next business meeting: a board-submitted request to review the performance of Superintendent Kathleen Williams.


And one last note…the Master Singers will be rehearsing on Monday.

Comments Are Always Welcome...

Were you at the school board meeting? Did you hear the rabbi and others on O'Reilly's cable show? Thoughts?

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