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School board looks
at safety, discipline

November 18, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

School Safety and Discipline Issues Top Agenda


By Karen Lyncoln
for the Pathfinder


Discussions concerning the new Safe Schools Program and discipline issues dominated the agenda of the Seeley Lake Elementary School Board of Education at its meeting on October 9th.

Dave Spence and Darrel Davis, teachers at the elementary school, presented a plan to restrict public access to parts of the playground during school hours. This, as well as the new program to "badge" visitors to the school, will effectively limit intruders into the school boundaries when students are present. The issue of restricting use of the playground is complicated by the fact that it is also a County Park. John Hebnes, Superintendent of the elementary school, is a member of the County Park Board. He has taken this issue to that Board and gotten their approval to proceed to restrict access. The issue is being reviewed by the County Attorney and should be resolved by the next school board meeting.

Becky Gehrke, also a teacher at the school, updated the board on other Safe Schools measures now in effect. In addition to the badge program, there are signs on all exterior doors indicating that visitors must enter through the main lobby to sign in and get a visitor badge. The side doors have been locked. Mark Williams, Board Member, asked that Gehrke update the board each month on the recommendations of the Safe Schools Task Force.

Tom Larson, Principal of the elementary school and director of the high school and junior high school band, distributed a letter that he sent to parents and guardians of band members listing the revised rules for behavior when the band travels and stays overnight at motels. The rules stress the importance of the new buddy system and the policy that motel doors must remain open whenever there is mixed company in a room.

Larson said that he revised the rules as a result of discussions that he held with parents last month.

"The process makes it difficult for schools to develop a general approach to disciplinary policies for kids with special needs," said Linda Moss, School Psychologist, as she summarized her presentation to the school board. Moss, who works at the elementary school a day a week, told the board about the regulations and bureaucratic process that schools have to follow to discipline a student with special needs or a disability.

Any student who is to be expelled must first be tested to make sure that a disability is not causing the misbehavior. Basically, a student can't be expelled if the misbehavior is related to a disability. Students who do not have a disability can be expelled for up to 45 days for certain offenses, but the school district must still provide "free and appropriate education" to the student. Moss stressed that the best policy is work directly with parents to find a solution to the discipline problem and the punishment recommended.

Superintendent Hebnes presented the board with draft language on the Pink Slip Policy/Procedure designed to close a loophole in the existing procedure for students who return to Seeley Lake Elementary School after being enrolled in another school. He also presented a policy prohibiting fireworks within the school's boundaries.

Members attending the October 9th meeting include Vicki Jardine, Pam Pitman, Loren Rose, and Mark Williams. The next school board meeting is scheduled for December 14th at 6:00 p.m. at the elementary school.

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