Green Bay council advances resolution on reopening schools
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – An amended resolution addressing the reopening of Green Bay schools is moving forward after the city council voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 2.
The non-binding resolution was originally brought forward late last month by District 12 Alder Jesse Brunette as a way to publicly encourage the Green Bay school board into getting students back onsite by reopening schools.
Because the Protection and Policy Committee sent the resolution to the full council without a recommendation, it had limited options – receive and place on file, send it back to committee for more discussion or vote to bring the resolution back to the next full council meeting for possible approval.
While the vote to advance was unanimous, the support for the resolution was not.
Some alders question the council’s place in the discussion, because it has no authority over the school board, or its choice regarding reopening schools.
“This has nothing to do with what we were elected to do,” said District 4 Alder Bill Galvin. “You can call this the people’s elected body, and it is. We were elected to talk about roads, police, fire, garbage, plowing, city parks, our riverways. We weren’t elected to talk about schools, and to say it is our responsibility is erroneous.”
Those supportive of the measure said something needs to be done.
“I don’t mind calling out the school board for being AWOL, and derelict of their duty,” said District 8 Alder Chris Wery. “We are here today with the backing of these parents. You (the school board) aren’t listening, so they are coming to us. That is why they are here.”
A handful of parents spoke during Tuesday’s meeting, asking the council for support.
“We should not have to come here and ask you to lend volume to our voices for urging our school district to go ahead and use the safety measures that it already has in place to provide an option of virtual and in-person education for our students,” said parent Barbara Coniff. “We would not be here if we thought action that is benefiting our city, and our students and our community is being taken.”
The resolution alders will vote on in two weeks will look different than the original proposed by Brunette.
While the title, at least for now, remains the same – urging the school board to transition to a safe, in-person option – the body of the resolution was amended to remove a handful of clauses some alders called subjective.
“From the beginning to the end, I am sorry, but this (resolution) is full of condescension, this is full of unfounded, negative allegations,” said District 3 Alder Lynn Gerlach. “We have no jurisdiction over the school district. We have no jurisdiction over the school board. But, I could support a completely, non-judgemental, simple resolution in support of the school district and the school board in these difficult times.”
For example: “Whereas many parents, students, and teachers of the Green Bay Area Public School District believe the school district is failing to fully meet their stated Mission” was one of four whereas statements eliminated.
Brunette said he didn’t necessarily agree the statements were inflammatory, but he supported the amendment because it encourages reopening schools.
“I think it’s a fair amendment,” he said. “It removes the most controversial parts while still in a way supporting the school district in making these decisions.”
The last paragraph of the resolution was also amended to show support for the board, instead of urging specific action.
Not everyone, however, supported the amendments.
“I think the original intent of the resolution has now been watered down and pretty much removed,” Wery said. “This change really alters the resolution entirely. Instead of trying to light a fire and say ‘Lets get this in-person as another option to the online.’ It’s saying, ‘Well, whatever you’re doing is fine.’ That wasn’t the purpose.”
Alders will vote on the amended resolution at the Feb. 17 meeting.
Mask mandate extension
Alders approved an extension of the city’s mask mandate with a new sunset clause of March 31.
With the current uncertainty of the statewide mandate, some alders said it was important to have a city mandate in place.
“We’ve been talking about schools going back to in-person instruction,” District 1 Alder Barbara Dorff said. “We can do this for the City of Green Bay. We should do this.”
The extension passed 9-3 with Alders Wery, Brunette and John Vander Leest opposed.
Brunette said he voted “no” because he thinks the county should take up the issue.
“Not necessarily looking for the county government to bring forth an ordinance they vote on, but just for consistency across our entire community,” he said. “There is a danger of having way too many patchwork ordinances.”
Not everyone agreed.
“We don’t need to do what the county is doing,” Dorff said. “We need to have a laser-like focus on the City of Green Bay. That’s all that we really can control.”
If the state mandate is repealed, the city’s ordinance would automatically go into effect.
Brunette requested at Tuesday’s meeting to forward the approved ordinance to the county health department for review.