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New North principal a familiar face in the school district

Tapped to fill the principal position at North High School this summer, Kurt Madsen has a lengthy history in administration the Eau Claire school district — and says he hopes to meet the challenge of leading a high school during the coronavirus pandemic that will likely loom into the fall.

Madsen, currently principal at Meadowview Elementary School in Eau Claire, will take up the new position at North on July 1.

He replaces Cale Bushman, who resigned in April to take a position as a high school principal in Wausau, said Mary Ann Hardebeck, Eau Claire schools superintendent. Bushman had been principal of the school since 2018.

“Opportunities like being a principal of a large school in Wisconsin like North don’t come along very often,” Madsen said. He noted that during his tenure as dean of students and assistant principal at Memorial High School, which began in 2007, he worked with several “quality educators” at North.

Madsen became principal at Meadowview in 2017.

Hardebeck said June 1 the district is “very sad about leaving his team at Meadowview where he’s done very excellent work, but we wish him all the best as he takes on this new leadership responsibility.”

Madsen’s background is in special education: He graduated from UW-Stout in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and special education, and from Viterbo University in 2007 with a master’s degree in educational leadership. He also worked at Bangor Middle School as a special education teacher from 2002 to 2007.

With uncertainty about in-person classes in the fall, Madsen said his priorities will be welcoming a new class of freshmen — and figuring out where students are at academically and emotionally after a tumultuous spring semester.

“I think any school’s got that difficult task of meeting students where they’re at,” Madsen said. “And unfortunately we just don’t know where they’re currently at.”

He hopes students can return to their classrooms in person this fall. But regardless of the school district’s decision, high school may look different later this year.

“Even just that freshman class, the 9th grade jump is a big year for a lot of kids, how they’re treated as young adults,” Madsen said. “How do they apply everything going on in their world, during COVID-19, post-COVID?”

He hopes to get feedback from North students and staff as the fall 2020 semester takes shape.

“We’re all in this together,” Madsen said of the upcoming academic year at North. “I can’t call it post-COVID culture, but we’ll be able to transition from where we’ve been the last few months into what that new culture will look like.”

Senate GOP readies policing bill after Floyd death, protests

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are narrowing on a package of proposed policing changes after George Floyd’s death that would create a national database of use-of-force incidents, boost the use of police body cameras and include long-stalled effort to make lynching a federal hate crime.

The emerging bill doesn’t go as far as a sweeping Democratic package unveiled this week. But the sudden burst of political energy reflects how quickly the national conversation over police and racial injustice is upturning business as usual in Washington. The GOP package includes several provisions similar to the Democratic bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky faces unrest over the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, indicated Thursday the legislation would be ready soon.

“The killing of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have accelerated important conversations,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate.

The party that has long favored a “law and order” approach — seen in President Donald Trump’s reaction to the nationwide demonstrations over Floyd’s death — finds itself trying to adapt to a fast-changing national dialogue on police and race as the Black Lives Matter movement gains worldwide prominence.

“This is an issue whose time has come,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the GOP’s only black senator, Thursday on the “Today” show.

A working group of GOP senators led by Scott is meeting behind closed doors and with the White House on the legislation. Despite a push to produce a package this week, the deadline is slipping as details are being compiled. It is expected to be released early next week, according to a senior GOP aide unauthorized to discuss the situation and granted anonymity.

Central to the package will be a new national database of use-of-force incidents, similar to one included in the Democratic bill. It’s a concept both parties support as a way to track potential police misconduct and ensure officers cannot simply transfer from one department to another without public disclosure of their records.

Scott said the provision would be named the “Breonna Taylor Reporting Act” and it would include not only the tracking of use-of-force incidents but also no-knock warrants as police used to enter the 26-year-old woman’s home. The database proposal expands on a similar bill Scott introduced in 2015 after Walter Scott — no relation — was killed by police in South Carolina.

Unlike the House Democratic bill, which would ban police choke holds, the Republican bill appears to be more focused on providing training for officers to de-escalate confrontations.

It would also include “duty to intervene” provisions so other officers would step up to stop misconduct, Scott said.

“We’re trying to provide the resources necessary to retrain these local departments,” he said.

One area of uncertainty is over so-called “qualified immunity” which the Democrats’ bill adjusts to make it easier for injured individuals to claim damages in civil suits against police offices. The White House has said it was a nonstarter and is not likely to be included in the Senate bill.

Agreement, though, is quickly forming around the anti-lynching bill, a long-stalled effort that has previously been approved by both the House and Senate but was being held last week up by objections from a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul has pushed instead for other measures including changes to no-knock warrants and an end to the practice of sending surplus military equipment to local police departments. Both those are included in the Democrats’ bill, but not likely to be included in the Senate GOP package.

Democrats have so far panned the GOP effort as insufficient compared to their own far-reaching proposal, built from decades of work by the Congressional Black Caucus tracking police and racial issues. The House is expected to approve the Democrats’ bill mid-June.

“The moment does not call for cherry-picking one or two things to do. It calls for bold and broad-scale change,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Schumer has compared this moment in the aftermath of Floyd’s death to the GOP approach to gun violence legislation after mass shootings, when lawmakers try to find consensus but end up doing nothing.

“We cannot go through those same motions again,” he said. “This is about the original sin of America, that we must try to deal with head-on.”

In the House, the GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California signaled a willingness to engage on the issue.

“I think there’s a lot of concepts that we agree upon,” McCarthy told reporters.

McCarthy said he favored a ban on choke holds.

It was a changed tone for Republicans who spent the past several days criticizing activists’ calls to defund the police — an overarching term to describe the range of options, from dismantling departments to shifting resources to other mental health and other community services. The Democratic bill does not include efforts to defund the police. It provides grant money to departments that want to consider new ways of policing.

The White House has dispatched top aides to work with Senate Republicans and Trump’s views on any final deal will remain key to its support.

McConnell said the Senate is “preparing to add to the conversations surrounding law enforcement with our own serious proposal. The policies would “take smart steps without attacking the vast majority of police officers who bravely do their jobs the right way,” he said.

Bipartisan call for Evers to fire whoever recorded meeting

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers faced bipartisan calls Thursday to fire the staffer who secretly recorded a private telephone meeting between the governor and Republican legislative leaders last month.

The May 14 meeting between Evers and Republicans focused on the path forward after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order. Evers wouldn’t say what action, if any, was being taken against his staff member who recorded it. Audio of the call was released under an open records request.

“I did not know about it,” Evers said of the recording during a news conference Thursday. “A staffer wanted help in taking notes and that’s why that staffer did that. I will not discuss personnel issues in public. Needless to say, the practice has ended with this one time.”

When asked how he didn’t know the call was being recorded, Evers said: “How did I not know? Because I didn’t know.”

Evers said the staff member who recorded the call had been in a different room.

Wisconsin law allows for telephone calls to be recorded as long as one party involved knows about it. Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, would not say when asked Thursday who knew that the call was being recorded. He and Evers’ chief of staff Maggie Gau were the only members of Evers’ staff to speak during the call, but it’s not known how many others were listening or who they were.

Republicans accused Evers of violating their trust. Rich Zipperer, who served as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff, said Walker didn’t record his meetings with lawmakers.

The Republicans on the call, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said the staff member who recorded it should be fired. Democratic Rep. Jonathan Brostoff also said the person should be fired.

“I don’t give a damn about what letter is next to someone’s name, this is unacceptable,” Brostoff tweeted.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz also criticized the recording, but stopped short of calling for anyone to be fired, during an interview on WHBY-AM.

“That’s just not acceptable,” he said of recording the meeting. “That’s not how we do things. It was bush league and amateur to have something like that happen and I do not condone that in any way.”

Brostoff also called for Vos to resign because, during the meeting with Evers, Vos blamed an outbreak of the coronavirus in Racine County on immigrants. On the recording, Vos said the outbreak occurred among “a large immigrant population where it’s just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer.”

Forward Latino and the Racine Interfaith Coalition called for Vos to apologize. Evers was asked whether he thought Vos should apologize but wouldn’t comment, saying he hadn’t listened to the tape of the meeting. Evers was on the call in real time when Vos made the comment that was caught on tape.

Across the country, states reporting racial data indicate higher rates of positive cases of the virus among the Latino population. In Wisconsin, about 33% of the cases and deaths from COVID-19 are among Hispanics and Latinos even though they make up just 7% of the state’s population.