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  • Writer's pictureAletheia

Teachers Gone Wrong: A Waunakee Case Study

What if teachers and administrative staff in Dane County school districts have actually known all along that masking constitutes a form of physical and psychological torture? And what if some of those teachers and staff fully embraced the notion that failure to submit to torture—even after the infliction of guilt, shame, and social isolation—merited the infliction of more intense physical and psychological torture?

Remember this propaganda-laden WCSD slide presentation we highlighted back in February, on the supposed virtues of wearing masks? Devoid of any legitimate science or math, the slide deck carried a not-so-subtle, emotionally manipulative message aimed directly at children: “COMPLY…or everyone will know you’re a bad, selfish person who doesn’t care about others.”

We were naturally curious about who exactly had authored the presentation and how it had obtained approval. While WCSD recently transitioned to a mask-optional policy, the people and the mentality that fostered this ugly and shame-based bit of "social-emotional learning"(aka SEL) remain. There have been no consequences relative to the presentation. And that means that there is nothing stopping WCSD or its academic staff from engaging in the same abusive attitudes, ideas, and "prescriptions" in the future.

So, we went after answers. And we got them. Oh, did we get answers...and a lot more insight. Here's a PDF of the specific email exchange covered in this post, for those who wish to view the documentation for themselves:

Meier and Stenroos Emails
Download PDF • 186KB

Let’s get right down to brass tacks…

Emily's Big Idea

During WCSD’s 2021-22 winter break, Waunakee Community Middle School (WCMS) 7th-grade Social Studies teacher Emily Meier had a big idea. Frustrated by a lack of student mask compliance—and determined to make a difference—she drafted a presentation that she planned to use to get her point across. (Again, see our previous blog post to download a copy of the version of the deck that was ultimately shown to students and view our video commentary on it.)

On January 11th, 2022, Meier sent a draft of her presentation to WCSD Instructional Coach Lynn Stenroos for feedback and advice:

This is what I’m hoping to do with kids in my homeroom (as soon as my yellow/red cards are laminated) — any feedback? Do you think I should share this as an “A+” advisory? Who would I piss off (other than the expected parents)? Is it possible to get more people on board? Would admin approve? Is the language positive enough? AGH.

Would love your thoughts.

To clarify, Meier's yellow and red cards were designed as a positive/negative reinforcement mechanism, symbols to hand openly to kids in front of their peers in order to: 1) reinforce proper masking compliance, and 2) punish non-compliance. Meier was intent on establishing what amounts to second-class citizenry in her homeroom…and, she hoped, beyond.

In light of the fact that Meier has literally designed a presentation to undergird a full system of public shaming and denigration, it’s stunning that she asks Stenroos whether the presentation language is “positive enough.” Her question demonstrates a profound mental disconnect.

Oh, and, gee…what a surprise…Meier doesn’t care about pissing off parents.

Lynn's Big Boost

A few things about Lynn Stenroos before we share her first reply to Meier.

She’s not just a WCSD instructional coach, she’s on the national professional development circuit. Her WCSD-related web page notes she presents for the Bureau of Education Research, while a listing for the Institution of Educational Development also touts her as a presenter and an expert in “Visible Learning,” an approach that reportedly transforms classrooms and leads to “powerful student growth.” Bear all of that in mind as we plow forward.

Stenroos responds to Meier:

Holy crap - I love this! Did you create this? Looks like it took hours of time. I wish our district would just endorse this. If they want us ALL in school, we have to promote wellness and appropriate mask wearing.

You should send to Jeff, Mike, the nurses, and Tim and ask for their thoughts.

Thanks for all your work on this.

[Jeff = Jeffrey Kenos, WCMS Principal; Mike = Michael Zibell, WCMS Vice Principal; Tim = Tim Schell, WCSD Director of Secondary Curriculum]

Stenroos, it's plain, would be comfortable guilting and shaming students district-wide.

So…who does Stenroos believe mask compliance is actually for, then…? Sure doesn’t seem like it’s for the kids, does it?

Emily's "Positive" Frustration

With Stenroos’ encouragement, Meier begins to envision the entire middle school embracing her plan. She also gets a lot more honest about what’s really motivated her to develop the mask presentation: abject frustration with students who want to breathe freely:

Thanks Lynn…I spent some time creating it today. Do you think the card system would be something they would adopt school-wide? I am trying to be solutions oriented and keep things upbeat/positive, but honestly I am so tired of the issues that I feel like we’re at a point that we need to do something more concrete. The cards are an attempt at a non-verbal, but visual reminder for individual students. I also have laminated passes ready to go to send students to the nurse.

Ah…So, are the yellow and red cards an example of Stenroos’ forte, Visible Learning? Kinda seems that way…that Meier has sought the approval of an “expert.”

Lynn's "Positive" Reinforcement

The final email in this particular chain comes from Stenroos. Consider it carefully:

I honestly don’t know. I’m thinking input from Jeff on that. However, my initial response is that this system is in direct response to student lack of adherence to the current policy and it provides promoting student agency - Students being accountable for their lack of adherence and motivated by inconvenience. In other words we can give them these visuals to remind them of mask expectations and should the reminders not work then there is a solution that will inconvenience them by going and getting a better fitted mask. It would seem like this is a logical consequence so to speak as it puts the action and remedy on the student. Those are my initial thoughts. I may be missing something that I’m not thinking of but to me it seems like a good approach rather than the current ones the aren’t working. I also really appreciate the science and empathy piece. Feel free to share my thoughts with the powers that be if you feel it would be helpful.

Thanks again for thinking so positively about a practical student based issue.

So…Stenroos thinks the threat of public shaming, a form of psychosocial coercion, is equivalent to “student agency”? That the action and the remedy involved in Meier’s plan are “on the student”…? She doesn’t see that what she and Meier are advocating is forcible control? It's more than a blindspot in judgment.

Just as disturbingly, Stenroos clearly understands and wishes to leverage the fact that masks cause physical discomfort to kids in the WCSD system…by punitively forcing kids (who want simply want to breathe and function normally) to wear even closer-fitting masks, which will result in increased discomfort (i.e., greater difficulty in breathing and function).

Then, after advocating implementation of multifaceted torture on children, she bizarrely notes that she appreciates the "science and empathy" piece of Meier's presentation. As we've previously noted, there is no demonstrable or viable science in the presentation. That leaves empathy. To what empathy could Stenroos possibly refer? Meier herself has acknowledged that the presentation was born out of abject frustration with mask non-compliance. So, any "empathy" buried in this deck has nothing to do with looking out for WCSD students; rather it is a ham-fisted, consequence-laden demand that students "empathize" with Meier, Stenroos, and their teaching colleagues, who are, one surmises from this correspondence, equally sick of trying to get kids to **just f-ing submit**. Isn't that the empathy and the subtext we're really talking about here?

How, then, is Meier’s plan—or Stenroos’ endorsement of it—in any way about students’ health or well-being? Isn't this correspondence really an indication that at least some Waunakee academic staff have become so interested in achieving compliance with their own "needs" and expectations that they're ready and willing to subjugate their students socially, emotionally, psychologically, and physically?

WCSD's "Positive" Failure

Now, you’d think, wouldn’t you, that WCMS administrative staff would have had a few things to say about this plan. And they did. We’ll get to those responses in an upcoming part 2 of this story.

But for now, Dane Undivided has a question for our readers…particularly Waunakee taxpayers, parents with children in the WCSD system, and Waunakee school board members:

If Emily Meier and Lynn Stenroos think that the creation of second-class citizenry, the use public shaming and social isolation techniques, the physical control of children’s bodies, and the infliction of physical and psychological suffering on students are good ideas that should be more widely implemented, is there any legitimate reason to continue employing them in the Waunakee Community School District?

For those who would argue that WCSD now has a “masks optional” policy, that none of this matters anymore, and we should move on, we pose the following two questions: Why is it tolerable for this mindset toward children to exist within the district AT ALL? …EVER? And, again, without accountability, what prevents it from returning when academic and/or administrative staff get frustrated again?

There’s more coming on this story.

As we’ll discover in the second installment of this post, while Meier’s colored cards were ultimately nixed by Vice Principal Mike Zibell, he certainly liked the guilting and shaming aspects of the system well enough. Moreover, the alternative he sanctioned to Meier's color-coded cards has even longer-lasting implications that should be every bit as worrying.

Stay tuned…


Our thanks to the parents who helped us get answers in Waunakee. This story would not have been possible without you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As of April 22nd, 2022, the spelling of WCMS Vice Principal Michael Zibell's name has been corrected.

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