Figuring It Out Day By Day

Uselmann on Mask Mandates and other challenges of being a school board member in the age of COVID-19



At first glance, Linda Uselmann doesn’t look like a politician. Dressed casually for the occasion, the Vice President of the Fond du Lac School District’s Board of Education could easily be mistaken for just another parent, at Fondy High to pick up one of her children. As it happens, though, she’s not here as a parent. She’s here to be interviewed.

Mrs. Uselmann’s political career began when she ran (and lost) for the first time in 2014. “I was interested and concerned and wanted to make a better impact and maybe learn some lessons,” she said. “When you do something [and] you fail at it, you learn what you need to do the next time.”

Clearly, she did learn from her first failure: getting people to help her, knocking on doors and taking advantage of public forums where she could speak about what she stood for and what she was going to be able to do for the community. The strategy worked- she was elected, served two full terms, and is now serving her third term after being reelected last spring. This April, she will have completed seven years as a Board of Education member.

“I saw that there were some issues in education that I thought that I might be able to press on and make improvements in.” Mrs. Uselmann said. “The welcome that my kids got when we began our journey through the Fond du Lac public schools was just amazing. And I really felt like I wanted to give back to the community and to the teachers and to the staff that made our children’s experience so, so fantastic.”

Less fantastic, though, are the issues that the district has been confronted with by the COVID-19 Pandemic. “I think it’s been a very complicated issue.” Mrs. Uselmann said. “One of the things that makes an issue more complicated is when the community is divided. As board members we have a task to not only do what we think is best for students, but also respond to the community members.”

She expressed gratitude for the fact that, one particularly heated Board meeting aside where people were “very vocal and very aggressive,” the public had been fairly civil. Mrs. Uselmann said that many attendees were shouting over others and otherwise behaving in ways that you wouldn’t expect at a public meeting. “A lot of them were saying that they felt unheard. And that was the [only] way that they felt like they were being heard.” Though, she noted, it was “not the typical interaction that we have here.”

Mrs. Uselmann said, on the subject of how COVID-19’s challenges had been handled, that “I really wish that there had been more of a push for being a community as far as nationwide, statewide… that we were all kind of on the same page with what the right things were to do and how we could best serve one another and ourselves.” She continued that “following guidelines and doing things that were being suggested by science. That was the biggest thing I think that we missed the boat on.”

She also expressed support for wearing masks, saying that “I do believe that the science has shown that masks do help.”

She acknowledged the concerns of those who opposed the mandating of masks. “I do understand the worry of people who want to push back against something being forced on them. However, I think when you have a greater good or a common good that is being served by something, it can be helpful just to have everybody on the same page as far as their actions,” Mrs. Uselmann said. “I think that masks are one piece of a puzzle that helps us to keep people safe.”

“We’re coming up on two years since we had the major crash where we had all [to] go home and shelter in place… I’m hoping that we’re on the downside of this and trying to work through it and get to a place where this is just another thing that we deal with,” Mrs. Uselmann said. “That’s my one concern, is that we don’t want to put staff or students in harm’s way with this. I’m hoping that we’re getting to a place where this becomes less of a threat to our normal lives.”

Uselmann said we probably would have been better off if we could have all agreed on how to handle COVID-19 from the beginning. “I’m sure we made some mistakes, but I think overall we did more or less . . . as best as we could using common sense and what we knew about things and [the] ever-changing atmosphere at the time.” But as Mrs. Uselmann said, “We try to figure that [out] … as we go day by day.”