With schools on edge, a Wisconsin parent couldn’t resist doing something stupid

The last thing teachers and students need right now is some guy walking into buildings, past the administration area where he’s supposed to sign in, into his kid’s classroom and handing the teacher a cardboard gun.

Nobody knows yet what point Jonathan M. Fitzgerald, 35, of Madison, Wis., was trying to make yesterday morning at Shorewood Hills Elementary School, but teachers and students are shaken enough without his assistance.

“Fitzgerald made statements to the teacher in the room about being an intruder who was allowed access to the school and gave the teacher a piece of cardboard with the word ‘gun’ on it,” Shorewood Hills Police Chief Aaron Chapin tells the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Whatever the ultimate goal of the individual, the actions that he took were obviously not appropriate and should not have been done,” he said.

Liz Merfeld, a spokeswoman for the Madison School District, said Fitzgerald is banned from the school and all school district grounds until further notice.

The incident left the teacher and students “shaken up,” Merfeld said. She said a restorative circle approach was used for the children to discuss and process the situation, after which they reported feeling “secure, safe and supported.”

“What the parent did was bizarre, and understandably, the event left (the teacher) feeling emotional,” Merfeld said.

The principal of the school says procedures were properly followed. A staff member followed the parent to the classroom, as police were called. He handed the staff member another cardboard gun and she recognized him as a parent.

He’s been charged with disorderly conduct.

The worst job in America right now belongs to teachers.

Related: Mother concerned over Superior High School threat, says not all bags were checked (KBJR)

  • That guy needs a few days in the pokey to think about what he’s done.

    /DC in Sconny: up to 90 days in jail and $1k fine.

    • MikeB

      Maybe I’m giving too much benefit of the doubt, but maybe he was demonstrating how easy a tragedy could occur at his child’s school.

      Clumsy and unsettling, yes.
      Lack of awareness, yes.
      Needs better stress management tools, yes.

      We’ll see when his story is presented

      • My guess is that’s what he was intended. Monumentally stupid.

      • Brian Simon

        I could easily do the same at my kids’ school right now. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea…

      • Postal Customer

        “Maybe I’m giving too much benefit of the doubt, but maybe he was demonstrating how easy a tragedy could occur at his child’s school.”

        Umm, I think we already know how easy it is. That fact has been demonstrated to horrific effect at many schools now.

  • jon

    …as this gun debate drags on (longer than most, so that’s something)…

    it’s become clear to me that some people don’t live in the same world as the rest of us… (like not a different perspective, but like a completely different world.)

  • It being Wisconsin, did he arrive at the school on a riding lawn mower while drunk? These are important details that would flesh out the story.

  • Jerry

    When teachers say they want to be heroes to their students, they usually mean like Mr. Holland, not John McClane.

  • Mike Worcester

    //Nobody knows yet what point Jonathan M. Fitzgerald, 35, of Madison,
    Wis., was trying to make yesterday morning at Shorewood Hills Elementary

    I have a feeling we might just find out once the court appearances begin?

  • Frank

    Just so I’m clear, because the messages I read here are anything but:

    Encouraging students to walk out of class (evidently the entire student body would be ideal), and exchange a school day for some “young activist” activity (more disruptive the better) to make a point = Super Duper.

    1 parent walking in and handing a teacher a piece of paper to make a point = Insane; must be drunk; Monumentally stupid; Worthy of 90 days in jail.

    That about got it?


    I’m not advocating either. Just wondering the thought process that makes one a good idea, and the other a bad idea.

    • Jeff C.

      The message that he gave those kids was “I could have killed you all right now.” No parent wants a stranger giving their kid that message. So, yes, worthy of 90 days in jail.

      • Frank

        Did tape his message to the wall? Write it on the whiteboard?

        I thought he quietly handed a staff member a piece of paper.

        • Jeff C.

          A man walked into a school, didn’t sign in, caused the school staff to implement their “intruder” procedures which include calling 911, walks into a classroom, hands the teacher a piece of cardboard and walks out of the classroom. The teacher and the students are shaken up by this odd behavior. So, yes, the man literally handed the teacher a piece of cardboard but he figuratively shouted his message from the rooftops.

          The idea of improving school security is a good one. His method was a bad one.

          • Frank

            So, how is encouraging the entire student body to leave less disruptive, and a better idea?

          • Jeff C.

            One event tells the students they have no power and could die. The other event tells the students they can change the world and make it a better place for all.

          • Frank

            But see, as regards nuts running in and shooting them, they !are! powerless, and no amount of SJW approved activism will change that.

            They depend on the adults around them to protect them, but many are refusing to do so. This man wished to make that point, and he did.

          • // but many are refusing to do so


            I was struck last night listening to teachers talk about being willing to die to shield their kids from bullets. God knows, many teachers have. If they dont’ wish to carry a gun, or trust themselves to shoot their own student if they have to, I don’t believe that equates to refusing to protect them.

            The teachers in these shootings have been nothing short of heroic and do not deserve the derision to which they’ve been subjected.

          • Lindsey

            Obviously, the teachers who won’t carry a gun…
            Since, you know, one of the 18 gun discharges in schools thus far this year wasn’t from a kid pulling the trigger of a cop’s gun in his holster.

          • I think it’s possible that a teacher that chooses to carry a gun could stop a school shooting and I hope they do if they have an opportunity, of course. I don’t think it’s a certainty that it can prevent one. There are just too many soft targets, too many entrances, too many places on a school campus where there are kids without teachers in sight.

          • Lindsey

            It’s certainly possible. That’s true.

            However, I point again to the child who pulled the trigger of a cop’s gun. A trained police officer (although I think we can all agree that more training is necessary) had a small child touch his gun. How does a teacher without any of that training provide more safety?

          • X.A. Smith

            Not to mention that the deterrence argument requires that the would-be shooter is using sound reason to make decisions.

            Also, one would think that the overwhelming majority of school shooters are expecting to be killed in the scenario anyway.

          • I’m not sure it’s a comparison. One might prove the need for the other.

          • Frank

            That would be true if the students were being encouraged to protest for better school security, but the folks here just spent the last two days making it abundantly clear that’s not something they’re even willing to consider.

          • The folks where?

            I don’t think it’s any great secret that this issue has pitted two sides against each other and both sides they have something they’re not willing to consider.

            I’m under no illusion, as I said at the start of this, that anything is going to change. So the exercise is mostly theater on both sides, and it gives eveyrone something to do during the work day than work.

            It’s frustration, really. Surely everyone is horrified that school children are being murdered. At the end of the day, we must at least find common ground on THAT . May be once we get to that point there can be some progress — baby steps, for sure, because big steps aren’t possible on anything in this country anymore .

          • Lindsey

            You are referring to guns in schools? For the teachers?

          • >>That would be true if the students were being encouraged to protest for better school security<<

            Like having an armed SRO on site to thwart an active shooter…as they had at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?

          • Frank

            You have not heard. That coward was recorded standing outside, gun drawn. He did not go in.

            He was suspended for derilection Tuesday; retired yesterday.

            So no, not like him.

          • I hate they he didn’t go in. I get that he shouldn’t be a cop.

            I’ve never been under fire.

            I can’t imagine having to live with this.

          • >>I can’t imagine having to live with this.<<

            I made that point in a discussion about this last night.

            Also the fact that no one knows what the rootin' tootin' gun totin' teachers / security officers will do when under fire.

            And take into account the fact that picking out the "bad guy with a gun" and shooting at them may cause more casualties.

          • >>You have not heard. That coward was recorded standing outside, gun drawn. He did not go in.<<

            Oh, I heard all right.

            You think others wouldn't do the same?

            From one of the teachers: “There is no one that is going to tell you a negative thing about Deputy Peterson,” said ninth-grade English teacher Felicia Burgin. “He was an Eagle, and he was committed to our school. I don’t know what he could have done other than literally died.”

          • Frank

            “You think others wouldn’t do the same?”
            Rumors of valor’s death in America are greatly exaggerated.

            Yes, I think it’s a lot harder to find 1 cop who would just stand there than to find 500 that would charge into action without hesitation in the same situation.

            “Law enforcement” as a group has lots of problems these days, but cowardice isn’t one of them.

          • No, but they acknowledge that they fear for their lives, which is certainly understandable.

            Fear is powerful. Few of us have ever been under fire and we can only guess how we would react.

            I’ll bet right up until the moment that fear paralyzed him, that cop on Parkland would have sworn to everyone that if there were ever a school shooter, he’d take him out.

            I’m sorry he has to live with this now. I’m not going to judge from the safety of a cubicle farm.

          • Frank

            That sad episode drives one thing home that none of us should ever forget:

            Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own protection. Because when seconds matter, help is only minutes away.

          • Frank

            When you’re right, you’re right. And you are right.

            3 of them now.

            It does appear the Broward County Sheriff’s office has a serious lack of valor and courage. A disgrace that will, and should cloud them for many years.


            Once again though, more reason to keep responsibility for your safety into your own hands.

          • Lindsey

            It’s not less disruptive, but it is not intended as a scare tactic.

    • Lindsey

      Right. If you yell Fire in a crowded space, you can be prosecuted, even though you have free speech, because you are trying to cause fear and panic.

      • Frank

        Did he yell “fire”, or “gun”?
        I missed that part.

        • Lindsey

          No, he carried a piece of cardboard as a gun.

          • Frank

            No, he carried a piece of cardboard that had “gun” written on it. Did he wave it around at the kids and scream “see, I got a gun”?

            I missed that.

          • I missing the point in this portion of the thread. Are we debating whether this constitutes disorderly conduct?

          • Lindsey

            I believe Frank’s point is that this is a protest, just like kids walking out from school. And that this guy shouldn’t be punished any worse than a kid who walks out.

            However, I suggested that his “protest” (of course, the true motive is unknown, but one can guess) was purposefully disruptive and intended to cause fear and distress, which is more analogous to yelling fire in a crowded room.

          • Ah, I see. Well, yeah, as has already been answered, the two are clearly protests.

          • Frank

            Yes. He intended to provoke fear and distress, in the administration; not the kids.

            There is little the kids can to about security, and evidently the adults have not been taking their responsibility seriously.

            He didn’t yell “gun!!!!” In the classroom. He handed the teacher a piece of paper and walked out.

          • Frank

            No. We are debating why one for of disorderly conduct is not only acceptable to the left, but encouraged, and another brings insults and demands for incarcerating participants.

            To get straight to the point, I’m illustrating that to partisans, it’s all about what message is being delivered. One is OK, the other gets you locked up.

          • Asked and answered.

            Look, and this is for everybody here.

            I’m going to start deleting comments that include veiled “shots” (no pun intended) at people with different opinions in the hopes that we can begin to a little more respectful and focus a little more on seeking common ground.

            This was a terrible event and people have been angry and frustrated and scared and I want us to begin to move on to a different level of discussion that is a little reflective of us as individuals with common concerns and not just taking the same-old-same-old debate over political sniping and dressing up with the issue du jour.

            I want people to start talking to each other as individuals, identify areas of commonality, and not as representives of a political party, philosophy, or movement with which you may agree or disagree.

            OK? OK, thanks. Starting now. Or after I finish shoveling out what the plow just put in my driveway.

          • >>Or after I finish shoveling out what the plow just put in my driveway.<<

            That ALWAYS happens right after you finish shoveling and taking off your snow duds…

    • One can guess that he was staging some sort of protest so that in that sense, the two are similar. The kids can’t change anything that this guy wants to see changed, so, assuming the reports of kids being shaken up are accurate, I think victimizing or traumatizing kids to make a point to someone else is monumentally stupid.

      If the kids decide to walk out to make a protest directly to the authorities that they want changes made in their schools, I think that’s a different approach, even if it’s debatable whether that’s the most effective tool students have to make their feelings known. I’m unaware, at the moment, what other options there are.

      On another tangent, I was in a school last night for a retirement planning seminar — East Ridge in Woodbury. Nice school. It’s labyrinth and god help anyone who needs to find their way around the place. The seminar was in the media library, a large room with windows that look out at the hallway.

      I didn’t really like sitting and thinking “what would happen if a person came in with a gun.”

      That’s the only time I’ve been in the school once.

      I’m gonna cut kids some slack who are thinking about it every day now, even though I realize there are a lot of people out there calling them names and suggesting they sit down and be quiet. It can’t be easy for them and nobody seems to be outlining a roadmap for them to say what they need to say and verbalize how they’re feeling.

      I don’t envy being a kid.

      Although it still beats the realities of retirement, I’m learning.

    • SPHINX

      From a different article:

      Jonathan Fitzgerald was buzzed into the entrance of the school but bypassed the office where visitors are required to check in. A staff member followed Fitzgerald down the hall and he walked into his daughter’s classroom, according to a release from the Shorewood Hills Police Department.

      That is the behavior of an intruder. Intentions/politics are irrelevant in this case.

      Regarding walkouts: the students — by and large — are being upfront with the district and giving advance notice.

      Personally: I’m ok with communities/districts who say ‘no’ … if you’re a kid in a public school, you have limited first amendment rights anyway.

    • NG

      Terrifying children, Yay! /sarcasm/

  • John F.

    After any tragedy involving guns, I am always saddened by the response from several friends who are major firearms proponents. Instead of expressing sympathy and understanding for those killed (who are often the first people forgotten), my social media feed is often filled with pro-gun memes and posts, as if they needed to justify their position on the matter. I put people like this guy in that category, I’m assuming he was out to justify his position – terrifying a school rather than contributing to the larger conversation and working towards a solution. Honestly, it makes me sick that someone would terrify an entire school in a childish manner to make their point. There is a better way.

    • Jerry

      They think they are the heroes of the action movie in their minds, instead of being people who are so afraid of the world that they need guns to feel safe.

  • Postal Customer

    How much of the gun debate is predicated on the monumental political division that exists in this country?

    Everyone knows that gun control is the only solution. But one side can’t acknowledge that fact, because that would be admitting that the other side is right. And that is politically the worst thing they can be seen doing right now.

    • Barton

      I wonder which came first, the political divide or the “2nd amendment has no barriers” divide. I feel like it was the second divide leading to the first, at least among my friends and family.

  • “Too often, conduct is wrongly judged cowardly when it is really prudent or even courageous,” writes Chris Walsh, a professor at Boston University and author of “Cowardice: A Brief History.” Those misjudgments have done irreparable harm, he writes. “Less obvious but far more pervasive harm has been caused by those who fear being judged cowardly and so behave recklessly. Were it not for such fear, history would be a much less bloody affair.”

    By throwing around words like “coward,” that punch the gut, Americans avoid looking at complex problems in a clear and comprehensive way. And once we accept that stopping a massacre is merely a function of individual character, simple ideas start to look like panaceas.”