BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Should students be allowed to don outerwear, such as coats, and backpacks in school, or should they be required to be kept in lockers?
Should those backpacks be required to be clear?
Should sophomores be allowed to attend prom?
These were three key questions the Delano School Board addressed as Delano High School Principal Steve Heil presented the school’s handbook for the 2018-19 school year during Monday’s work session. The handbook will be on the agenda for the Monday, May 21, regular school board meeting
Outerwear and backpacks
“There’s been a few questions that have come up as far as why we let students still walk around with backpacks and jackets on, and you can’t really see what they have on them or in them,” Heil said. “We polled the staff. Out of the 68 teachers, 52 replied, and 70 percent of them said they do see it as a safety concern.”
School board member Carolyn Milano said the outerwear language should be more descriptive so that some layers are allowed.
“Myself and my daughter are always freezing in that building,” Milano said. “ . . . I know, in some parts of the building, kids are very cold.”
Student representatives Alex Moe and Lydia Ramstad agreed.
“I’m Jamaican; I’m not made for this weather,” Ramstad said.
“You have to make sure students know sweatshirts are allowed, or light jackets; otherwise, kids will get upset because they’re going to freeze,” Moe added.
Heil said staff is working to get the building heating and cooling systems dialed in so there is less than a 7-degree temperature difference in rooms. Teachers may have discretion on a case-by-case basis if that is not the case.
“If we have really cold classrooms, we need to be smart and say, ‘You can have more on,’” Heil said, before adding that he would work to tweak the outerwear language. “We settled on outerwear. We mean puffy and big jackets.”
When dealing with electronic cigarettes known as vapes, alcohol, or other banned substances or items, Heil said they are most often found in backpacks.
“If you have them lock it up in their locker, it’s not free to trade during classes,” Heil said.
“It’s one other way to keep the safety of the school in check and watch what’s going on.”
Ramstad said middle school students had expressed frustrations about not being able to carry backpacks, which requires more trips to their lockers.
“A lot of them were frustrated because four minutes is a strained time period,” Ramstad said. “They’re chosing between going to the bathroom and getting their books.”
Moe added that those students are allowed four or five hall passes per quarter, and if they run out, they are given a tardy.
“The middle school tardy policy will align with the high school tardy policy so there will be more flexibility,” DHS Assistant Principal Shane Baughman said. “Students will be held accountable, but will have more breaks.”
Heil added that he would not be extending passing times, because that would require the school day to be longer or classroom time to be reduced.
Board member Amy Johnson asked Heil to monitor if the backpack policy and amount of passing time causes anxiety for students, because she believed it could do so for her children, and Heil said the situation would be monitored and reviewed.
In addition to backpacks being limited to lockers, they will be required to be clear, and female students will not be allowed to carry purses, prompting Ramstad to ask if feminine hygiene products could be made available in restrooms so girls do not have to worry about transporting them discreetly or quickly accessing them when needed.
School board member Lisa Seguin was surprised to learn that was not already the case.
Milano agreed with Ramstad that that would be an issue, and Johnson called Ramstad’s suggestion a great solution.
In 2019, DHS prom will be limited to juniors and seniors, Heil said.
He noted, typically, eight to 10 sophomores attend prom as dates for juniors or seniors, with 12 doing so for the prom that took place Saturday.
“Every year, we’ve had eligibility issues with that,” Heil said. “We kind of thought, for the headache it’s been and the few kids who attend, it’s better to make it a junior-senior event. It’s a discussion we’ve had for a number of years.”
He outlined one concern about sophomores attending prom.
“It becomes an issue when a person asks a sophomore to go to prom, and someone else asks a sophomore to prom, and they (the two sophomores) show up as a couple,” Heil said.
Milano said she had a problem with the proposal.
“If I am a junior or senior and want to ask my boyfriend who is a sophomore or a freshman, why can’t a freshman go, and why are we taking it away for sophomores?” Milano asked.
“It takes hours out of the day,” Heil said. “It’s a management nightmare.”
Milano said she did not believe the new policy would be fair because students should be allowed to attend prom “if they’re acadmically in line and they are emotionally ready for something like that.”
School board member Al Briesemeister questioned the purpose of prom and the reason why the school still sponsors it.
“It’s a tradition high schools have,” Heil said. “In Delano, the tradition has been a junior-senior prom. I don’t know how long ago it was changed so sophomores could go. I know that wasn’t always the case. Every year, we come across an instance or two where it’s been an issue, specifically with sophomores.”
Heil declined to discuss some of the issues on the record.
Questions arose regarding students from other districts, as well as high school graduates, attending DHS prom.
Baughman said students from other districts are required to fill out a form for their principal to sign stating that the student is in good standing.
“Couldn’t we have a form for sophomores and penalize them if they are doing that (attending with another sophomore)?” Milano asked.
Doing so could result in more complaints, Heil said.
“They don’t ask for permission first,” he said. “They get everything and find out they don’t qualify.”
“There were a lot of people who technically shouldn’t have gone to prom because they were failing a class,” Moe added. “ . . . They complained because, ‘I just bought this $600 prom dress. You can’t tell me I can’t go.’”
Superintendent Matt Schoen suggested that 2019 be a trial period for the new policy.
School board members got an early look at the preliminary 2018-19 budget during the work session.
It calls for $936,642 in planned deficit spending, reducing the general and transportation fund from $6,451,678 to $5,515,036.
The capital budget is set to decrease by $762,066, from $8,166,426 to $7,404,360.
Deficit spending is also planned for the food service budget, to the tune of $74,581, but Business Manager Mary Reeder said those numbers are very preliminary.
Reeder said she plans to present a preliminary budget for community services at the May 21 meeting.
“I’m hoping we’re on track to be positive at the end of the year,” Reeder said.
An ending balance of $5,832,382 is expected in the construction budget at the end of the current school year, and that total amount will be spent in the next school year, Reeder said.
In the next school year, the district plans to save $297,154 in long-term facility maintenance funds for future projects.
“We’ve had a big spend-down in the current year,” Reeder said. “We don’t plan to deficit spend every year. We want to keep a little bit of a fund balance.”
Those funds will be used for projects such as replacing roofs, according to Reeder.
Enrollment affects the budget, and Reeder expects enrollment to be steady, including kindergarten enrollment remaining around 140 students, compared to highs of 180 students.
General education funding from the state will increase by 2 percent in 2018-19.
Moe said he and Ramstad asked students of all ages if they feel safe at school.
Elementary students told them they felt safe, did not feel threatened by students or staff, experienced few instances of bullying, and when they did, staff did a good job of handling it.
However, middle school students reported that bullying due to race or sexual orientation were big issues, according to Moe.
“Some said they brought issues to teachers, and feel like they didn’t do anything about it,” Moe said. “I felt disappointed about that.”
Ramstad she spoke to a minority student who reported bullying.
“He went to the office, they gave him a fist bump and said they’d take care of it, but nothing happened,” Ramstad said. “There’s not enough happening at the middle-school level for some reason.”
Regarding bullying, Schoen said, “It’s up to administration on a case-by-case basis to investigate matters and take appropriate action. We’re trying to look at ways so it’s easier for students to communicate what’s happening.”
Both student representatives said middle school students also questioned the effectiveness of lyceums, with primarily male students not taking them seriously.
Moe suggested featuring speakers with firsthand experience dealing with the issues they are addressing in the assemblies.
He also recommended splitting elementary students into two groups for assemblies so they have more room, in addition to making those assemblies more active to keep the students’ attention.
Odds and ends
During the regular meeting, the board:
• approved personnel matters including the resignation of Delano Middle School social studies teacher Autumn Heitzman, the resignation of DMS special education teacher Jana Kragerud, the resignation of DMS technology coordinator Jonathan Moen, the hiring of Eric Conway as DHS choral teacher, the hiring of Jennifer Deering to a new DHS counselor position, the hiring of Tannah Frawley to a new DHS art teacher position, the hiring of DHS special education teacher Emily Walters, and one-year leaves of absence for DHS special education teacher Julie Semeizer and DHS math teacher Lydia Wissink.
• took in a presentation about the CSPAN student project and recognized DES Imagination Fair winners.
• approved the second and final read of Policy 602 regarding organization of the school calendar and school day, due to substantive and legal reference changes.
• approved the first and only read of Policy 303 regarding superintendent selection, due to nonsubstantive changes.
• approved the first of two reads of Policy 405 regarding veteran’s preference for hiring (requiring district staff to document that preference and reminding staff that spouses of deceased or disabled vets qualify for the preference) and Policy 903 regarding visitors to school district building and sites due to substantive and legal reference changes (related to having a space available for Post-Secondary Education Options students).
• accepted a total of $2,700 in donations from six entities.