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FATFAR to take place Sunday

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Although most staple events in the Chippewa Valley have been canceled this summer, the annual FATFAR float will continue as planned.

FATFAR, or the Frenchtown Annual Tube Float And Regatta, dates back to the mid 1970s. While no one is 100% sure of the exact first event, this year is considered the 44th annual float. It has been dubbed as “the world’s largest one-day tubing event.” There is no official start time, although floaters generally hit the water at noon. It generally takes tubers about 2½ hours to get to Loopy’s Saloon & Grill & Event Dome in the town of Wheaton.

Loopy’s owner Bill “Loopy” Kleich said he has been renting tubes for people to float down the river for the past three weeks. In past years, Kleich has heavily promoted FATFAR, encouraging people to get out of the water at his tavern. However, with COVID-19 concerns, Kleich isn’t sure what to expect this year.

“We’ve not been promoting anything,” Kleich said. “We don’t own the event. We are going to be open for business. If people float, they float; it’s a public river. We’re not expecting an enormous crowd, but we’ll have extra staff.”

Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman said she’s spoken to Kleich and discussed the safety measures being put in place. She encouraged people who decide to head to FATFAR to only go on floats with others from within their household.

“What I feel is important is to follow the safety protocols in place,” Weideman said.

Weideman said she understands the desire to participate in one of the signature summer events of the Chippewa Valley.

“It’s definitely better it’s an outdoor event,” she said. “But people still need to social distance and practice good hygiene.”

The exact date of FATFAR has shifted in recent years. While it typically has been held on Father’s Day, it also has occasionally been moved back a week so it isn’t the same weekend as Country Fest. With no one really promoting the event this year, Kleich said he anticipates some will float down the river this Sunday, and others will wait until the following Sunday.

“We hope the crowd gets split up a bit,” Kleich said. “And we know some people will stay away because they are nervous about bigger crowds.”

Kleich said he has extra bottles of hand sanitizer, and he will be encouraging social distancing.

“We’re doing what we can,” he said.

People are now encouraged to park at the south end of downtown and launch their tubes, floats and kayaks from the new Chippewa Riverfront park. In past years, people generally have launched from the city’s shops, near the Veterans Memorial Bridge on Main Street.

The Chippewa Falls Police Department will have an extra couple of officers on duty on Sunday, stopping at the launching spots, said Lt. David BeBeau.

“We’ll be making sure people are being safe and there aren’t any open containers,” BeBeau said.

BeBeau agreed that he hasn’t seen any promotion of the event this year.

“We don’t know what to expect. We don’t know if there will be a big crowd or not,” he said.

While authorities have never canceled FATFAR, it was heavily discussed in 2002 because of high water levels, as well as construction of the Highway 29 bridge that crosses over the Chippewa River. Cautions also were issued in 2014 because of thunderstorms and high winds.

AP centerpiece
Court: Young immigrants can stay

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants, the second stunning election-season rebuke from the court in a week after its ruling that it’s illegal to fire people because they’re gay or transgender.

Immigrants who are part of the 8-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program will retain their protection from deportation and their authorization to work in the United States — safe almost certainly at least through the November election, immigration experts said.

The 5-4 outcome, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices were in the majority, seems certain to elevate the issue in Trump’s campaign, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of his first presidential run in 2016 and immigration restrictions his administration has imposed since then.

The justices said the administration did not take the proper steps to end DACA, rejecting arguments that the program is illegal and that courts have no role to play in reviewing the decision to end it. The program covers people who have been in the United States since they were children and are in the country illegally. In some cases, they have no memory of any home other than the U.S.

Trump didn’t hold back in his assessment of the court’s work, hitting hard at a political angle.

“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” he wrote on Twitter, apparently including the LGBT ruling as well.

In a second tweet, he wrote, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

Later, he said the decision showed the need for additional conservative justices to join the two he has appointed, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and pledged to release a new list from which he would choose a nominee if another opening occurs on his watch.

Both of his appointees dissented on Thursday, though Gorsuch wrote the LGBT rights ruling.

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden pledged to send Congress proposed legislation on his first day in office to make DACA protections permanent.

Roberts, with whom Trump has sparred, wrote for the court that the administration did not pursue the end of the program properly.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,“ Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients.”

The Department of Homeland Security can try again, he wrote. But any new order to end the program, and the legal challenge it would provoke, would likely take months, if not longer.

“No way that’s going to happen before November,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University Law School.

The court’s four conservative justices dissented. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, wrote that DACA was illegal from the moment it was created under the Obama administration in 2012. Thomas called the ruling “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”

Alito wrote that federal judges had prevented DACA from being ended “during an entire Presidential term. Our constitutional system is not supposed to work that way.”

Justice Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that he was satisfied that the administration acted appropriately.

DACA recipients were elated by the ruling.

“We’ll keep living our lives in the meantime,” said Cesar Espinosa, who leads the Houston immigration advocacy group FIEL. “We’re going to continue to work, continue to advocate.”

Espinosa said he got little sleep overnight in anticipation of a possible decision. In the minutes after the decision was posted, he said his group was “flooded with calls with Dreamers, happy, with that hope that they’re going to at least be in this country for a while longer.”

From the Senate floor, the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said of the DACA decision, “I cried tears of joy.”

“Wow,” he went on, choking up. “These kids, these families, I feel for them, and I think all of America does.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas had a different take, labeling DACA illegal and focusing his wrath on Roberts.

“Yet John Roberts again postures as a Solomon who will save our institutions from political controversy and accountability. If the Chief Justice believes his political judgment is so exquisite, I invite him to resign, travel to Iowa, and get elected,” Cotton said in a statement.

The program grew out of an impasse over a comprehensive immigration bill between Congress and the Obama administration in 2012. President Barack Obama decided to formally protect people from deportation while also allowing them to work legally in the U.S.

But Trump made tough talk on immigration a central part of his campaign and less than eight months after taking office, he announced in September 2017 that he would end DACA.

Immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led states quickly sued, and courts put the administration’s plan on hold.

The Department of Homeland Security has continued to process two-year DACA renewals so that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients have protections stretching beyond the election and even into 2022. No new applications have been accepted since 2017, and it probably would take a court order to change that, Yale-Loehr said.

The Supreme Court fight over DACA played out in a kind of legal slow motion. The administration first wanted the justices to hear and decide the case by June 2018. The justices said no. The Justice Department returned to the court later in 2018, but the justices did nothing for more than seven months before agreeing a year ago to hear arguments. Those took place in November and more than seven months elapsed before the court’s decision.

Thursday’s ruling was the second time in two years that Roberts and the liberal justices faulted the administration for the way it went about a policy change. Last year, the court forced the administration to back off a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

In 2018, Roberts joined his conservative colleagues to preserve Trump’s travel ban affecting several countries with largely Muslim populations. In that instance, Roberts wrote the administration put the policy — or at least its third version — in place properly.

Eau Claire schools' projected $4M surplus could ease COVID-19 strain

The Eau Claire school district is projected to save millions this spring due in part to a statewide school shutdown, lower transportation costs and filling fewer open positions during the closure.

The coronavirus-related shutdown is likely the big reason behind a potential $4 million surplus in the district’s 2019-20 budget, school officials said Thursday at a budget meeting.

“We’re looking at a positive to our fund balance of about $4.1 million,” said Abby Johnson, executive director of business services. “Those are some big dollars.”

But officials warned that the surplus could be quickly eaten up if the district outfits students and teachers with iPads and laptops for at-home learning this fall — or if the Legislature decides to cut some state aid for school districts.

The district’s potential surplus is only projected at this point. Consensus on the 2019-20 budget balance won’t come until an August audit, Johnson said.

The possible surplus would flow from two areas: a $1.8 million savings on employees’ salaries and benefits, and a $1.9 million savings on contracted services, including student busing.

“We haven’t transported children since the middle of March,” Johnson said.

The district hasn’t filled many open staff positions while schools are closed, she added. Some open positions may have also been filled by substitutes instead. Classrooms have also saved about $325,000 on supplies since students were sent home in March.

It means the district’s 2019-20 budget will likely come in at $159.8 million instead of $163.9 million.

“It’s unexpected,” Johnson said. “When we build our budget, we say, ‘here’s what we think is going to happen,’ and this year has been nothing we expected.”

Costs on the horizon

But if it comes, a $4 million budget surplus for Eau Claire schools could be quickly snapped up for students and teachers who need at-home-learning devices — or to shore up the district’s budget if the state cuts school funding for 2020-21.

If the state Legislature reduces per-pupil funding, it could throw the Eau Claire school district — the eighth largest in the state — into a multimillion-dollar deficit, Johnson said Thursday.

Under the state’s 2019-21 biennial budget, Wisconsin school districts are slated to get an extra $179 in per-pupil funding for the 2020-21 school year.

But the novel coronavirus has caused economic fallout statewide this spring. If lawmakers cut the additional $179 per pupil and keep that funding flat for 2020-21, it could mean a $1.4 million deficit for the Eau Claire school district next year, Johnson said. If the Legislature reduces aid by $200 per pupil, the district would likely see a $3.7 million deficit. (Both of those scenarios include new federal funding for school districts from the CARES Act signed into law in March.)

Johnson said she’s not confident districts will get the additional $179 in per-pupil funding, as the state budget currently dictates.

“Right now (the budget) looks really good because we don’t know what the unknown is,” she said of the possible $4 million surplus. “But if the Legislature comes in and says we’re reducing by $200 per pupil, that surplus is going to be eaten up really quickly.”

State aid was nearly 52% of the Eau Claire school district’s total revenue in the 2017-18 school year, according to a May report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

There’s another potential significant cost facing the district this year, if schools stay closed in the fall.

To make sure every student, teacher and staffer has a laptop or internet-connected device to take home and use for virtual teaching, the district would have to spend almost $5 million, said Jim Schmitt, executive director of teaching and learning.

Eau Claire students in third through sixth grade have assigned iPads to take home while schools are closed, Schmitt said. But in every other grade, devices are shared among students.

“This would level the playing field,” Schmitt said of the $5 million figure. “This would fill the gaps and put a device in every student’s hands … we’d be fully mobile.”

Ensuring laptops for students in seventh through 12th grade alone would cost the district roughly $1.9 million. It would also mean 1,829 iPads for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, and 1,693 for first- and second-graders.

The Eau Claire school board hasn’t yet made a decision on whether the fall semester will be virtual, in-person or a blend of both. But Schmitt said Thursday that if classes are even partially virtual in the fall and every student doesn’t have a device, they will struggle.

“The closure did make it very clear to us that we posted activities for kids, but if you didn’t have a device to connect to that, as a parent you would struggle,” Schmitt said. “Some of the interaction between our staff and families is very dependent on the family having a device.”

The Eau Claire school board is next slated to meet on July 20.