School safety has been on the minds of people following the mass shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida. In an effort to call attention to gun violence, many students across the nation are planning protests over the upcoming months. Although nothing definitively has been planned in the Sauk Prairie area, members of the Sauk Prairie School Board chose to review policies relevant to student disorder to understand how administration and building leaders might respond.
According to school board member Richard Judge, who serves on the district’s Policies and Instruction Committee, there was a “strong consensus” to make changes to district policy related to student disobedience, but given the committee’s full agenda Feb. 26, there wasn’t enough time to properly consider it.
“We wanted to take the situation happening nationally and review the district’s relevant policies,” Judge said. “We wanted to see what those policies look like and hear how they are administered, as we do periodically with any relevant policy. We wanted to give our administrative team and building leaders enough flexibility to adequately address things if a situation arises.”
Judge said his takeaway from the committee meeting was a general hope administrators will exercise judgment and handle any potential situation in a way that is appropriate and consistent with the district’s values, that call for putting students first.
“We recognize students are citizens as well and have safety concerns,” Judge said. “However it is not the position of the board or the district to say to students ‘get involved’ or ‘don’t get involved.’ This is America. If they have an opinion they want to share, they have every right to share it.”
Judge said the district recently added a civics requirement for graduation, and as part of that students are asked to understand the U.S. Constitution. “We don’t want to force feed or inhibit them whatever the topic is,” Judge said. “We looked at relevant policies because we believe a thoughtful administration discusses what situations might impact their schools. And we recognize on our part, this is a much larger thing.”
Board member Dennis Virta said he came prepared to recommend a resolution on the subject of school safety, but instead decided to share some thoughts.
“We are all aware of the recent shooting attacks … these acts have changed the way many of us in this room live and work,” Virta said.
He said as a member of the school board he has concerns about school safety and how violence is affecting students’ learning.
“I have spoken with educators who see anxiety in their students and are concerned with how fear and anxiety are taking a toll in the classrooms,” Virta said. “As a school board … we must also go beyond thoughts and prayers to consideration, debate and action. I see the tendency in the national conversation to curb speech of school faculty and staff, and even of students on the basis that speech on the topic of gun violence is political speech and that we must be careful not to campaign on behalf of a political issue. Let’s not go there.”
Virta said the voicing of opinion on a topic that directly affects a person’s safety shouldn’t be stifled and that those in public service shouldn’t be prevented from having a voice.
“As a school board, let us not be so narrow in our interpretation of Policy 32.31 (B) which states, ‘Staff members shall not campaign on school property on duty hours on behalf of any political issue.’ When it comes to … the safety of our students and staff, let there be conversation. Let there be debate. Let there be demonstration and let it all be vigorous.”
Virta said district administration should consider “leniency” when applying its administrative guideline regarding student disorder regarding the subject of public safety. “An organized and peaceful walk out is not disorder, it is orderly,” Virta said. “It does not have to be disruptive to the learning environment, but it is certainly can become so, depending on how we as adults supervising our children respond to it.”
“I personally have had multiple uncomfortable conversations with my kids who generally like school, but now don’t want to go because they think they are unsafe,” Judge said. “And I think they get a feeling that there is nothing really we can do to keep them safe, completely.”
He said the committee is urging administrators to use sensitivity as they deal with potential protests. “The students in many cases fear for their lives,” Judge said. “And we have a tendency to think of that as a political statement. It isn’t a political statement but more of a cry for help. They want us, adults, to figure this out so they don’t have to be scared out of their wits every time some kid makes an offhand comment or see a kid unhappy or mean.”