A parent-heavy crowd numbering around 60 had the Rush City School Board’s attention Dec. 20, when concerns about school building safety and prompt communication with parents dominated the discussion.
With the Connecticut tragedy still fresh in people’s minds, tension among local parents only escalated last week when a 17-year-old Rush City High School student allegedly threatened to bomb and “shoot up” the school Dec. 17.
The male student was arrested by the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office. There were no concerns and everything went routinely the rest of the school day, Superintendent Vern Koepp informed those at the meeting.
By late afternoon and into Monday evening, however, rumors and inaccuracies of the incident began to buzz and get worse on social media websites such as Facebook. In fact, a student who had nothing to do with the incident was being harassed on social media, Koepp noted.
So the district called the sheriff’s office again, and it was the opinion of high school principal Brent Stavig and law enforcement that there was no threat to student or school building safety.
Still, around 100 to 110 students were absent from school the next day due to their concerns of safety, Koepp explained. The numbers fluctuated throughout the week.
“We need to find some balance in our community that works,” he continued. “We need to reestablish people’s confidence in our school buildings and get back to normal routines as quickly as we can. I appreciate the efforts of our staff and students. On Tuesday, the kids who were here were fine. I credit your children for handling this. The Connecticut tragedy was tough … adding our piece complicated it a lot.”
Allowed to openly address the issue, frustrated parents began to talk one by one. Some asked: Why wasn’t I contacted by the school much sooner? If there wasn’t a threat, then why was there an arrest?
Others insisted the district look into surveillance and other high-tech systems complete with cameras. One father said he was in favor of armed personnel stationed right inside the school buildings. A mother said she simply wanted all the doors locked during regular school hours.
Near the end of the board meeting, the board decided to lock all the exterior doors at both schools and place an adult at the main entrance of each building through the month of January. This will allow the district time to review options, Koepp noted.
In addition, “The Connecticut tragedy and our high school threat incident have prompted us to review our building security and safety procedures,” Koepp posted on the district website Dec. 21. “These conversations will continue with appropriate committees, including parent input, and with the school board.”
He added, “In an effort to provide a safe learning environment, we have well-researched plans in place at each of our schools to address emergencies, and students and staff practice at least five lockdown drills each year. While no amount of planning will guarantee immunity from a Newtown … tragedy, we take these matters very seriously. I would like to reassure our parents and community members that student safety is our first priority.”
Long-time teacher resigns
Board members approved, with regret, the resignation of long-time physical education/health teacher Candi Crippen.
Hired in 1970, she dedicated her entire career at Rush City High School and is one of the longest, if not the longest, tenured teachers in school district history.
“Thank you for 42 and a half years at Rush City High,” said Crippen in her letter of resignation. “I have worked alongside some excellent colleagues, and have had so many opportunities to grow and develop in my career field. I will never forget my time at Rush City High School.”
Said Board Chair Scott Tryon, “Hats off to her. She definitely will be missed.”
Crippen’s last day will be Jan. 18, 2013.
High school report
In his regular report the board, high school principal Brent Stavig congratulated the 12 students who were inducted into the Rush City Chapter of the National Honor Society in November.
The student-led Friends of Rachel Club, launched in response to the Rachel’s Challenge presentation from earlier in the year, has started its first school-wide project with an “act of kindness chain.” The idea, explained Stavig, is each time someone observes an act of kindness he or she writes it on a piece of paper and creates a link on the chain.
Also, Julie Risland has started a cribbage club, which meets Mondays and Wednesdays after school until around 4:30 p.m. Kids are having fun, learning the game and using math skills and strategy to try and defeat their opponents, Stavig noted of the educational benefits.
In her report, Jacobson Elementary principal Melody Tenhoff noted students raised $452 for New York Public Schools in need of relief from Hurricane Sandy.
She recognized similar efforts including a food drive where students from both the high school and elementary school collected 1,400 pounds of food.
Tenhoff also congratulated Sue Williams on winning the District Technology Leader Award from TIES, a Minnesota software developer that works with educators.
In other news, the board:
• Approved the final 2013 property tax levy in the amount of $1,774,646, which is a bit lower than what was proposed in the fall and a decrease of 5.16 percent over the 2012 levy.
• Approved the five-year capital expenditure plan. Facility expenditures total $726,100 for fiscal 2013; $695,600, 2014; $729,600, 2015; and around $380,00 the final two years.
• Learned from the state department of education that the percentage of state aids payable during the current school year has been increased from 64.3 percent to 82.5 percent as a result of a $1.330 billion improvement in the state’s most recent budget outlook for 2012-13.
• Approved the 2012-13 seniority lists for Rush City teachers, St. Croix River Education District teachers, paraprofessionals, food service workers, custodians, and bus and van drivers.
• Approved the resignation of paraprofessional Adriane Wimmer; additional hours for the certified special education teacher and one additional paraprofessional due to demands on special education in the early childhood program; family medical leaves for Lee Ann Anderson and Sue Mold; and Colleen Daniels as JH speech assistant for only 2012-13.
• Approved Stephanie Hackel and Sarah Anderson as paraprofessionals, positions that were approved by the board last month.