by Richard Uhlhorn
At the end of the Lake Chelan School District’s Tuesday, December 8, board meeting, Superintendent Barry DePaoli brought up Senate Bill 5395 – Comprehensive Sexual Health Education. This is a bill that has created a lot negative discussion amongst parents and DePaoli wanted to take the time to update the board and those who joined Tuesday’s Zoom meeting.
Stating that OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) has been working hard on this issue, DePaoli stated that the School District does have a curriculum in place. “There are no discussions involving sex,” said DePaoli. “These curriculums have been in place for a long time.”
He stated that the District should look at upgrading its curriculum, but that the District has a lot of latitude in doing so. He also made it clear that parents can opt out of this program and that the District has to put the curriculum on its website.
In addition, the District will have a committee to help update its curriculum.
Board Member Lynda Foster said, “Thank you for clearing up the mud. I know it is a big topic and I want to be a part of the committee.”
DePaoli responded, “I will be messaging parents before we meet. It is an important topic.”
In other business:
K.C. Knudson. Director of Teaching gave a report on ongoing educational activities at MOE, the Middle School and High School. He gave shout outs to each and every team that are working on providing student education. “The staff is doing some powerful work with their kids,” said Knudson. “You have to teach a lot with a limited amount of time. The teachers are making use of that time.”
He especially noted the Migrant team who he says are some of the most caring and committed group of individuals he has worked with. In addition, he stated that the English teams from Kindergarten to the Seniors are continuing to do excellent work. He gave a special shout out to Sarah Clarke who is developing essential services for special needs students.
Knudson stated that the Para Educators are doing an amazing job, and are meeting every Wednesday to continue their professional skills. “Sometimes they are the unsung heroes in your system.” He also mentioned Frank Phelps and Kathy Stimpson who are working hard on the online learning system and trying to gauge how effective that program is.
Special Education’s Sarah Clarke reported that the team is looking at what the barriers to the District’s students learning is. “We find ourselves in a unique situation now.”
Homeless issues are one of the areas being worked on. Board member Agustin Benagas asked what she considers homeless. She replied that homes which are doubled up or living in substandard housing like mobile homes. Benagas thanked her and mentioned that he grew up in a mobile home with 10 others.
The District has a system in place that FLAGS disturbing keywords from students and Clarke said they are seeing a disturbing trend of keywords from students. MOE Principal Erin Morin explained that the system searches for inappropriate words and she has seen an increase of these types of keywords pop up in the fourth and fifth grades, i.e. seeking suicide counseling, or depression comments, and an up tick in self harm.
Suicide has increased 1.5 times for kids from 10 to 19 in rural areas over urban areas reported Morin. “We have more kids in crisis. COVID has had a huge impact on mental and social health.”
Clarke added that “We know how complex this problem is.”
Middle School Principal Brian Wood reported that 33 students in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades have opted to remain in a remote learning system. “We are trying to develop a network with these kids,” said Wood.
In school attendance has been fairly consistent with 93 to 97 percent on a daily basis. “We are excited to see attendance so high.”
Jeff Fehr, board chair, asked about safety protocols and Wood replied that masks are mandatory and the kids are maintaining six feet separation. “We are constantly reminding kids to stay six feet apart.”
Wood also said that students were allowed to go to the bathroom during class as opposed to between classes. They are also not using lockers but carrying everything in their backpacks. They are following cleanliness guidelines like cleaning their desks. “A lot of things are going well.”
High School Principal Brad Wilson reported that 38 high school students from 9th through 12th grade have decided to stay online. “We are looking forward to next week,” said Wilson. High School students will be returning to in-classroom instruction on Monday, December 14.
DePaoli thanked them for their reports. “There is a lot of work going on with logistics,” he said. “There is a lot of proactive planning. I’ve been watching the middle school and the kids are excited to be back.”
DePaoli said that Dr. Butler, Chelan-Douglas Health District, visited Cashmere High School and was impressed with how the schools seem to be the safest place for kids.
The high school students will have six days to get accustomed to being back on campus before the Christmas/New Year break.