Holmen School District decides to keep memorial wall in high school, will move to new space

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT)- A new policy adopted by the Holmen Board of Education states that all existing memorials in the district will remain in tact.

In June of this year, the district sent a letter to families of students and staff who had passed away stating that because of construction at the high school, they would be removing the memorial wall containing their pictures and plaques.

“The School District of Holmen recognizes that the loss of a student or staff member has a significant impact on students, staff, families and community. The focus of the district is to support students in their learning.  While the district wants to support students and staff who are grieving a loss, memorials can be an ongoing reminder of a traumatic event and can be impossible for students to avoid when located on district property or included in district-wide events.  Therefore, the district would like to honor our former students and staff members by returning the plaques from the memorial wall to the families of the deceased,” the letter dated June 8, 2020 stated.

The decision ignited a firestorm of controversy in the district, including from many of the families of those honored on the memorial wall, current students and alumni.

“It was a complete gut-punch,” said Linda Stollenwerk after receiving the letter from the district.

Her daughter, Mia, was honored on the wall.

“… I don’t think that it’s healthy to ignore that these kids were here,” Stollenwerk said at the time.

After hearing from many in the community, the Holmen Board of Education decided to form a committee to determine how to move forward with memorials in the district, particularly those from the memorial wall at the high school.

The committee met every week from July 8th through September 2nd for a total of nine meetings, according to a district statement.

The committee included school board members, students, staff, community members, alumni, and families of those recognized on the wall.

Viterbo University Distinguished Professor of Servant Leadership Tom Thibodeau helped guide the committee through discussions and decision-making.

On Oct. 12, the Holmen Board of Education approved the policy recommended by the committee.

Besides keeping all current memorials in the district in tact, the committee recommended the district move the memorials that were removed at the high school for construction to a new space. Families of those recognized in the memorials have been contacted regarding the recommendation.

The statement from the district said the policy also provides fair and consistent ways memorials to happen for those who pass away while a student.  These include recognition in yearbooks, at graduation, and inclusion in their graduating class collage.