Rhonda Silence

ISD 166 discusses politics, policies, and the upcoming return to school

The School District 166 school board meeting on Thursday, February 18 had 32 participants, taking part or listening in via Zoom.

One person, Rae Piepho of Lutsen, spoke during public comment, questioning the school’s policies on the discussion of politics in the school. Piepho said she wanted to address what she described as “teacher bullying.” She shared an anecdotal account from a family whose child had been asked to leave the classroom after expressing their opinion on the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Piepho described an incident shared online. “The students were all asked, on the day after what happened at the Capitol, what they thought about the violence at the Capitol. And one of the students had an opinion, apparently, there was dissension from the teacher’s point of view.

“And when he said, what about the violence in Minneapolis last summer, he was told he could leave the class,” said Piepho.
She referenced the school faculty guidelines, stating, “Principle one – number one says their professional educator deals considerately and justly with each student. And number two, their professional educator does not intentionally expose the student to a disparagement….”

Piepho acknowledged this is a very difficult time for students and teachers, but added, “This, to me is something that is absolutely not acceptable in the classroom. I believe that a teacher should be politically impartial. No student should even know, you know, what they believe. That classroom is a place to learn discernment and reason and critical thinking. And unless something would be unacceptable, you know, in classroom language or whatever, should certainly be welcomed by the teacher, you know, to be listened to not to shut down a kid and make them feel my opinion does not matter.”

Piepho reminded the school board of the school slogan, “Success for each; respect for all” and said she thought respect was not shown for this student and others by a teacher.

School Board Chair Dan Shirley stopped Piepho’s comment and said that because it appears that this may be a personnel matter no action could be taken in a public meeting.

Piepho thanked Principal Megan Myers and the school board for listening but added that she was concerned about student treatment in the classroom and said that she hopes the faculty handbook would be “strictly adhered to.”

And, she added, “This is very, very important in the classroom, treating students with respect.”

Student school board representative report
Junior Olivia Nesgoda, a representative from the student body on the school board, gave a report on a survey she had conducted. Nesgoda shared her personal feelings on distance learning and said that she is not as motivated as normal and she wondered how her peers were feeling. To find out, she conducted a survey.

Nesgoda said she had received 57 responses, which Principal Myers said was about a quarter of the high school population.

Nesgoda said she heard from some students who didn’t take the survey because they thought it didn’t matter or the school didn’t care. But of the students who did respond, 59 percent said they want full in-person learning.

Nesgoda asked her fellow students how they were feeling on a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst (sad, fatigued, withdrawn). She said 29 responders reported feeling sad and unmotivated. But, 28 people said they were coping.

Nesgoda also asked her schoolmates if they were exercising and she said most were getting some exercise or had responded, “I wish I was.” Nesgoda said she felt encouraged by that because students understand they need physical activity as a “brain break.”

Over 50 percent of students said they are caught up on schoolwork, but many said they were struggling because “none of my deadlines seem real.” Nesgoda said she fully agrees with those survey respondents. She said. “Without that person-to-person interaction, it doesn’t feel like you have to do it.”

Nesgoda told the school board she may get more responses and will share that with the board. She said she hoped the information could be used to support students in some way.

The school board thanked Nesgoda for her work and Board Member Deb White said the report made her really sad. She said all of the students need “a really big hug.”

Returning to school with hybrid learning model starting March 2
Principal Myers reported that the school is ready to move ahead with the hybrid learning model for middle school students. She said students will have their first hybrid day on March 2.

Myers told WTIP that teachers are ready to return to class. The second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine was administered to a number of teachers last week. Myers said teachers are very excited about being back in the classroom. She said they know how important that is to students.

Myers also gave an update to the board on the efforts for getting high school students (grade 9-12th grades) back in the building in the hybrid mode, as Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recommended in his February 17 announcement. The governor said that students could return for in-school learning as early as February 22, however, ISD 166 was not ready to immediately bring all the students back to classes. The governor gave a directive to get children back in school by March 8.
Myers said the school/community COVID incident management team would be meeting the next day to review the return to school plan for the high school. She said the tentative date for high schoolers being in the building is March 9, a day after the governor’s recommendation.

Myers said March 8 would be a distance learning day, a “C Day,” under the hybrid model anyway, so she said that works out well. She said she is happy to be on the path of getting kids back in school.

Board Member Stephanie Radloff asked if there could be any sort of “Welcome Back to School” event, noting what student representative Olivia Nesgoda said about students feeling down. She asked if there could be some way to get kids fired up about being back in school.

Assistant Principal Mitch Dorr said there is a small group looking at that. He said right now teachers are looking at getting kids back in class safely. But he said conversations are starting and there are some teachers who are very motivated to welcome students back.

Radloff said she would like to help with that in some way.

Principal Myers said there will be a time of transition, to get students used to sitting in a classroom again.

Perusing school policies
Principal Myers shared two policies that have been referred to recently–#103 Complaints-students, employees, parents and # 906 Community notification of predatory offenders. She said she wanted the school board to know that the district is in line with state policies.

Board members said the policies are basically good, but noted that they are somewhat boiler plate from Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA).

Board Member Deb White said for years the school board has said it would review and update a few policies each month, but noted that it hasn’t happened. Board Chair Dan Shirley said a professional could help tailor the policies to the district.

White said she wasn’t comfortable spending “thousands of dollars” to have someone do what the board hasn’t found time to do. She suggested setting some sort of deadline, other wise it is like a term paper you don’t want to do. She said we need to just do it.

Board Member Carrie Jansen said Finance Director Lori Backlund does a great job with finances, but the school district still has an audit every year. She suggested that an audit of policies could be similar.

Board Chair Shirley said the board needs to formalize its process of reviewing policies. He suggested establishing a subcommittee to begin that process. He said the board could get assistance from MSBA.
Later in the meeting, Principal Myers noted that it can be “dissatisfying” for the public to not get answers on some of the issues addressed in school policies, but said it is the right thing to do, to follow those policies, especially in regard to personnel data.

She added that she does her best to protect her staff and students, but also pointed out that if there are issues that she needs to be aware of, the public needs to let her know. She said she can’t fix something if it is not brought to her attention.

In other business
* During the financial report, Principal Myers pointed out one item of interest, the increase in transportation costs. She said that expenditure is up because of COVID restrictions on riders. Buses are running three times a day as opposed to two times in a regular year.

* Principal Myers said the board has agreed that it wants regular updates from the Local Indian Education Committee (LIEC). She said the format for those updates needs to be decided. Should a member of the LIEC attend school board meetings or provide a written report? Principal Myers or Board Member Deb White, who is on the LIEC, will reach out to see what the committee prefers.

White said the LIEC is a very vibrant, active, and proactive group. She stressed that she would like to have board members become a forum for more people to learn about the Grand Portage community.

A section of the school website has been dedicated to the LIEC. That information on the LIEC can be seen here. An interview with two of the LIEC members, Erik Redix and Anna Deschampe can be seen on the WTIP website here: Learning more about the work of the Local Indian Education Committee.

* Assistant Principal Mitch Dorr said he would like to give some kudos to some people and activities that sometimes go unnoticed.

He congratulated the participants in the recent One Act Play competition. He said they took second at the state competition. He said the actors are a great group of young people and they, and Sue Hennessy did a great job.

He also commended the Alpine and Nordic ski teams. He said new Alpine Coach John Oberholtzer is doing a great job. He said Dave and Becky Bartol are doing a great job with the Nordic ski team. They hosted a meet at Pincushion Mountains earlier in the day.

And, he added that the Robotics program continues to meet, but it is challenging with COVID restrictions.

* Assistant Principal Dorr also said the administration is checking in with every senior and their families to see how they are doing. The school is going to talk with them about future plans and if students need help filling out financial aid forms for post-secondary education.

* Principal Myers talked about some of the activities taking place to recognize Black History Month.

On Monday, February 22, the school/community COVID incident management team made the announcement that hybrid learning would begin for high school students on Tuesday, March 9. There will be no school for high school students on Thursday and Friday, March 4-5 for teacher planning days.

School District 166 is holding a parent/community meeting on Monday, March 1 to discuss the change from distance learning to the hybrid model for high school students. Anyone with questions is invited to participate via Zoom on March 1 at 4 p.m. The link to the meeting will be posted on the school website.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Principal Megan Myers about the board actions and about the plan to get all students back in school.