By Betty Vanderwielen

School Safety Tops School Board Discussion

SLE School Board


SEELEY LAKE – Access to Seeley Lake Elementary School (SLE) during non-school hours and problems with the intercom system were the main topics discussed at the SLE School Board meeting Feb. 20. Staff changes and leave of absences were also approved.

Discussion of the safety issues were prompted by a letter submitted by Bridget Laird and other SLE staff members. The complaint concerning the intercom is that general announcements cannot be heard in classrooms that are noisily engaged in an activity and the junior high school wing cannot hear the announcements at all. This also means those classrooms would not hear emergency notifications concerning a fire or a school lock-down or a head-count if students were sheltering in a classroom other than their home room. The intercom problems have increased since the new Blackfoot system was installed. Stout said his office has been trying to work with Blackfoot to solve the problem but have had no luck so far and the process has been very slow.

The Board agreed that student safety demanded the problem be solved. Johnson volunteered to contact Blackfoot. Board member Ryen Neudecker volunteered to assess the current needs and investigate other possible system options and their costs.

The board discussed the non-school-hour access issue at some length. Stout said his personal policy has been that the gym should be available whenever needed, whether for students who want to shoot baskets or for some other group activity. He said he has frequently given the access code to individuals for gym usage and has been able to handle any problem that arose simply by talking with the individuals involved. He also said he understands his personal philosophy is not shared by everyone and if the Board wishes him to implement some other policy, he will willingly do so.

Laird and other teachers expressed their concerns about the school’s liability and their own personal liability if they were working in their classroom and an accident occurred among unsupervised students. There was also concern that though access is only permitted to the gym, it would be quite easy to force access to the rest of the facility, opening the possibility of property damage or theft.

Some of the suggestions discussed were to change the key code, perhaps monthly. Stout said previous attempts to do so had met with technical problems because of outdated software.

Other suggestions included returning to a key system and having a supervising adult sign the key in and out or hiring an after school supervisor for scheduled access times. There was also some question as to whether the supervising adult should sign a waiver or complete a background check.

The Board decided each of their members should consider possible solutions to the access issue and submit them to Stout. The Board will take up the issue as an agenda item at their next meeting.

Other school board business included an announcement by junior high teacher Duane Schlabach that he is running for House District 92. Election to the position would mean he would be absent from his SLE teaching position during the 90 days the state legislature is in session.

Third-grade teacher Kelsi Luhnow requested a leave of absent for the 2018-19 school year during which time she will be pursuing a Spanish degree at the University of Montana. A motion was passed to permit her to do so.

On the recommendation of School Superintendent Chris Stout, a motion was passed to hire Karmen Braulik as a paraeducator for special education.

The board also praised Kindergarten teacher Sheila Devins and Spanish/Outdoor Education Instructor Bridget Laird for stepping in to teach Maggie Burwick’s first-grade class while Burwick is on sick leave. Comments about their teaching indicate they are doing a very good job.

The next school board meeting is Tuesday, March 20 at 5:30 p.m. at SLE.


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