Parents and board members need to do homework
Valdez City Schools is beefing up its disciplinary policy towards students that are caught abusing drugs and alcohol, but finding agreement among the groups is proving difficult. It is also clear that any changes to the policy will need a plan on how the district will implement – and cope with – new policies.
Officials, parents and educators held a one hour work session at Valdez High School Monday night before the regularly scheduled school board meeting to discuss proposed changes recommended by a committee that was formed to address a growing trend amongst teenagers in Valdez. Numerous changes had been proposed, including shortening the high school’s lunch period, closing the campus, and instituting stricter penalties for students caught misbehaving with drugs or alcohol while at school. The work session and an additional hour of discussion during the regular meeting yielded one result: it is quite apparent that little or no consensus has been reached between any of the groups concerned, or even members of the groups, such as parents.
The one point those present agreed on was that there has been an uptick in drug and alcohol use by the town’s teenagers.
“We have a serious, serious drug and alcohol problem going on,” Bill Comer, Valdez police chief said during the work session. “I can tell you it’s there and it’s there with the good kids.”
Comer asked the board to immediately institute a closed campus policy at the high school as a way to keep students on school grounds where, and at least theoretically, they would be less likely to use banned substances during school hours.
“It’s a no brainer to close campus,” Comer emphasized, “It’s a no brainer.”
Even that seemingly simple step is not as simple as it seemed.
Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, brought a proposal to close the campus at lunch, with the provision that parents could sign a waiver that would allow students to leave campus with parental permission.
Board member Kathy Todd said she believed such a waiver would make it so that the closed campus policy would be virtually unenforceable. Some parents balked at closing the campus, which they said punishes students that are clean.
The school’s principal, Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek, noted several problems the school would face if a closed campus were immediately instituted. First and foremost is the fact that the school is not prepared to provide supervision for the over 200 students it would need to chaperone during the 58 minutes that would normally see a large exodus during lunch. Teacher availability during the lunch period is governed by union contracts that cannot be changed at the drop of a hat.
A call to shorten the lunch period to 30 minutes produced even more logistical problems for teaching staff that would trickle over to Gilson Middle School.
There was also a wide divide on opinions regarding proposed drug testing of students in sports or activities, changes to the suspension policy for students caught using at school and other punitive measures, such as whether or not it will be mandatory police be notified if and when a student tests positive for drugs or alcohol.
“How aggressive are we going to be on this?” Jensen asked during the meeting. “We have to decide as a community where we want to go with that.”
One point became abundantly clear after the meeting. District administrators, educators and parents have a lot of homework to do on the issue before instituting new policy changes.