Gilpin School Board considers policies on bullying, weapons, nondiscrimination, and medical marijuana

school_student-presentersNew language required by state and federal law regarding transgenders

by Patty Unruh

The Gilpin County Board of Education held its regular meeting on Tuesday, November 1. Those present included Board members Craig Holmes, Charlotte Taylor, Kersten Armstrong, and Steve Boulter; Brook Ramsey was absent. Superintendent David MacKenzie and Secretary to the Board Gretchen Sechler were also present.

Congratulations and Celebrations

  MacKenzie noted that the secondary school had grown in numbers, necessitating a move to a higher sports conference classification. That had been of some concern to the athletic department; however, both the football and volleyball teams put in a good showing this season, both qualifying for playoffs.

Consent Items

The Board accepted the Human Resources Report with no discussion.

Policies on First Reading

The Board examined a multitude of policies on first reading, including some new policies and some that were being revised. MacKenzie reported that the school administration had contacted the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) last school year to request an audit of its policies. CASB spent a couple of months last spring reviewing the policies and provided a list showing which policies were required by law and which were simply recommended by CASB to use at the Board’s discretion.

Among the many policies were those on drug and alcohol testing for bus drivers, support staff positions, flag displays, student dress code, student distribution of noncurricular materials, student interrogations, discipline, suspension and expulsion, food allergies, the Pupil Rights Amendment pertaining to the taking of surveys, Title I parent involvement, and Internet use.

Nondiscrimination – Transgenders

Several of the policies involved nondiscrimination and equal opportunity. The provisions in these policies included language stating that schools in the District are subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination toward students and employees “on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.” Harassment is prohibited, and the District may take action to investigate and end unlawful behavior.

The policies are being revised to add the wording “which includes transgender” with respect to sexual orientation. Other new wording includes “conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”

This reporter asked several questions and posed some hypothetical scenarios regarding the transgender wording. Was it in reference to the transgender bathroom law? The superintendent was frankly uncertain, but he acknowledged that there has been a lot of action in the courts to better define the responsibilities of schools. Board members admitted that they had not really thought about it but would have to do so. The guidelines are still in need of clarification; “everything is morphing,” they said.

Colorado has had guidelines in place for the past several years regarding nondiscrimination toward transgenders. Had the Gilpin District encountered this issue in the past that any of them knew? The answer was no.

If there was a male transgender student who said he identified as female and wanted to use the girls’ restroom, and there were girls who felt uncomfortable with that, would the District provide a separate gender-neutral restroom for whoever wished it? The response was that they would have to get legal advice. Taylor said she had not seen anything in the legislation where someone could not ask for these accommodations.

There have been some instances of men who have claimed to be transgender and who have gone into women’s restrooms and public changing facilities and have exposed themselves or taken photos by cell phone over the stall doors of restrooms. In light of this hopefully unlikely possibility occurring here, did the District have any plan to supervise restrooms and locker rooms? Taylor advised that this was not a new concern. People have been dealing with this for years, she said, and we are always on the lookout for it. In her view, things are less of a problem now than they were in her day.

“Boys are not drilling holes through the locker room walls,” she said.

Holmes responded that coaches monitor the locker rooms. When the elementary students have restroom breaks, a teacher monitors the restrooms; however, if a student takes a break during a class, there is generally no monitoring.

MacKenzie suggested that one likely outcome could be to provide single stall private restrooms and private showers in the locker rooms, rather than allow students to choose which restrooms to use. There would be an associated financial cost, he said. There would be “rules of decency” for the common areas.

A policy on equal education opportunities is intended to guide the Board and staff on making decisions relating to school facilities and selection of educational materials. Training is to be provided for students and staff to “identify and alleviate problems of discrimination.”

Medical Marijuana

The Board has had a policy on drug and alcohol use by students, but has not had a policy regarding the use of medical marijuana. Colorado school boards are not legally required to adopt a policy on this subject, but they are permitted to do so.

So far, there is no student that needs medical marijuana, but the Board felt it important to have a policy in place for this eventuality. State law requires school districts to allow primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana to qualified students, while federal law regards any form of marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.

Bullying Prevention

The policy addressing this issue noted that the Board supports a secure school climate that is free from threats and bullying. It states that the District shall administer surveys of students’ impressions of the severity of bullying in school. Participation is not required, and the survey responses are to be confidential.

Weapons in School

Taylor recalled that in other schools, elementary students have been suspended for bringing plastic knives in their lunch or for possessing ROTC guns. CASB’s suggested form for this policy gave the Board on option of wording regarding disciplinary action for using, possessing, or threatening to use a dangerous weapon. The choices were: “may be subject to disciplinary action” or “shall be subject to disciplinary action.” The Board chose “may be subject,” reasoning that it was common sense to consider all circumstances before issuing discipline.

Immunization of Students

Last spring’s legislative session produced changes which affected the wording of this policy regarding emancipated students. Generally, all students are required to present up-to-date certificates of immunization or a completed exemption form. A student shall be exempted only if they submit a certificate from a physician stating that immunizations are not indicated for medical reasons or the student has a religious or personal belief that is opposed to immunizations. If there is an outbreak of disease against which immunization is required, no exemption will be recognized and those students will be excluded from school.

Superintendent’s Report

The request to reconsider participation rates [in state testing] and school accreditation rating for the secondary school will be submitted to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) on November 2, ahead of the November 7 due date. MacKenzie said the problem appeared to have been that student data pertaining to testing had not been coded correctly. The CDE had worked with the school’s registrar to get all data updated for state testing software; after that, six elementary students and seven secondary students withdrew from the District. There were two places from which the students’ names were to have been removed, but they were removed from only one place, so that showed only that they had not taken the tests. MacKenzie is confident that the CDE will reconsider and recalculate the school’s accreditation.

The roof painting has been finished.

The Safe2Tell program has resulted in six or seven reports, MacKenzie said, and these have been followed up on.

The transportation department supervisor recently met with a CDE representative, who did an on-site report. The report indicated that the overall record keeping improved greatly from last time, and the buses are safe.

The Interact Club (student service organization) gave a presentation at the Rotary Club on October 27. Students Anna Yocom, Chad Holmes, and Aiden Freeman talked about what service to the community meant. MacKenzie said they represented the school well.

The Internet was down at the school on Friday, October 21; the communication people had sent out updates to the firewall, which worked only too well and blocked the Internet. Service was restored in due course.

Next Meeting

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, November 15, at 7:00 p.m.

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