School uniform task force proposal nixed

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

By a 5-2 vote, at the Feb. 6 meeting the school board voted down a proposal to create a task force on school uniforms.

Board member Karen Morehead said she has felt obligated to bring this forward ever since 2005, when community members urged her to pursue the idea.

At that time the school board was working to pass a levy, and she was told the issue might be divisive. “Following that, I got a lot of positive comments [about uniforms] and the levy failed,” she said.

Morehead served two terms on the board, from 1992 to 2000, and again from 2002 to 2005, when she filled in for a member who resigned.  She was elected again in 2009.

At the beginning of the Feb. 6 meeting Kim Raphael, wife of the board president, urged the group to vote against a task force on uniforms. She went to private school for 12 years, she said, and “there is some emotion in my household.”

Raphael said every student she talked to was horrified and defiant, some saying they would leave the school if uniforms were required.

Some adults asked her whether the school can require uniforms, why they would want to, and especially, why the school district is wasting time on this.

“I don’t think a task force is harmless,” she said. “You should nip it while you can.”

Morehead’s proposal was to establish a task force, which she would chair, to explore the advantages and disadvantages of uniforms or a uniform dress code in District 831 schools. The school board would advertise for members. The outcome would be an informational report and would not include a recommendation.

Morehead cited a letter sent to the board from a 91-year-old woman who sent three of her children to public schools and four to private, where uniforms were required. “The four who wore uniforms were not judged by what they wore,” the woman wrote.

Dan Kieger, the only other member voting to establish a task force, said, “I know it’s something of interest with administration. I’ve received a few letters from people.”

Julie Corcoran voted no, but before the vote said, “I’m on the fence. Some of the inappropriate clothing upsets me.” Corcoran said she favors a stronger dress code.

Gail Theisen voted no, citing the higher priority of the facilities task force, which she called “of utmost importance for our district.”

After talking to quite a few parents, she said, “I’m not feeling there’s an urgency or a whole lot of interest.” While forming another task force on the same timeline as the facilities one would not be beneficial, Theisen said “I still think it needs to be asked and answered.”

Kathy Bystrom thanked Morehead for her proposal, saying her heart is in the right place. On the other hand, Bystrom said, “It’s not clear to me there’s an issue.”

When she was a new council member, Bystrom said, she learned from Morehead to let the committees do their jobs. She urged the board to address the dress code situation through the policy committee.

“If administration are saying we have issues with the dress code, we need to tighten up. This is a process issue,” she said.

At the previous meeting both President Rob Raphael and Vice President Erin Turner said they were against not just the task force but the idea of school uniforms in general.

“This isn’t a priority for the district right now,” Turner said at the Feb. 6 meeting. “I can’t place this at the forefront.”

In addition to not being necessary, she added, the task force as proposed doesn’t seem like a school board initiative, just volunteers getting together to give their thoughts.

Raphael talked of his children choosing their own outfits for school. On the day the political science class went to the state capitol, he said, his daughter wore a dress, but for Silly Dress Day she wore pink leggings. When his son wears a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, he said, it may not be what adults would choose, but “it’s important to him.”

“If principals feel there are problems with the dress code,” Raphael said, “let’s go though policy.”

Kieger agreed. “Regardless of how the vote goes,” he said, “the dress code needs to be looked at, for both students and staff.”

Poetry Out Loud

Stephanie Beja recited “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, the poem she used to qualify for the state Poetry Out Loud competition.
Stephanie Beja recited “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, the poem she used to qualify for the state Poetry Out Loud competition.

Stephanie Beja recited the poem “Abandoned Farmhouse,” by Ted Kooser, for the board.

Beja won the Poetry Out Loud competition in her speech class and advanced to the school-wide contest on Jan. 10.

She was chosen winner of the 13 Forest Lake students who participated and advanced to the regional competition. Now she’s going to state.

On Mar. 18 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, two winners from each region will compete for the chance to represent Minnesota at the national finals in Washington, D.C. in April.

Students choose poems from an approved list and memorize them. Judges look at physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of difficulty and evidence of understanding.

Beja is the first Forest Lake contestant to reach the state level.

Softball Field

The school board heard from several persons involved in the successful girls’ softball program.

Softball Coach Angie Ryan listed improvements made to the ballpark.
Softball Coach Angie Ryan listed improvements made to the ballpark.

Coach Angie Ryan said her players are grateful for improvements to the softball field last October

These included moving the outfield fence and making it tight all the way around, laying sod and installing an irrigation system, new power poles and a new scoreboard.

Player Dana Mogren said the girls “feel like almost a college team” because of the facilities.

EBD at Forest View

Emotional behavior disorder (EBD) teacher Kim Vanneste, one of five special education teachers for 45 students at Forest View Elementary, gave an overview of her program.

Vanneste said EBD students are identified either by their parents or by school staff. They do not have control over their emotions and lack social skills.

With her case load of six students, the goal is to get them back to the mainstream class. To do this they need to self-regulate, control their bodies, and advocate for themselves.

Vanneste said the children respond well to visuals, so she has the alphabet on one wall, and the directions north, south, east and west are labeled.

To help them improve, she uses a five-tier labeling system for emotional state, similar to self-reported pain in a medical setting.

“What zone are you in?” is the question, and the possible answers are 5 for explosive, 4 for on the edge, 3 for teetering/frustrated/starting to get angry, 2 for OK (might be sad but could probably handle an upset) and 1 for doing great.

In addition, she offers a blue-padded room for calming and a chill zone that is quiet and has beanbag chair.

Her students learn to recognize when they “need to go down to Mrs. Vanneste’s room.”

The teacher said she wants them to have pride and confidence in their abilities. “They might be fine on a farm,” Vanneste said, “but sitting at a desk, reading, is not their skill.”

She helps them to become respected by teachers and peers, to make community connections.

Two students who were in the EBD room full-time last year are there less than half the day this year, she said.

Airline Miles

In the future, air travel credits that school board members earn on trips paid for by the district will accrue to the district, not personally to the board member.

The board was required to change district policy because of state statute.

“In private companies, letting people keep their mileage is considered a perk,” Raphael said. “For the legislature to say we can’t do that seems overbearing.”

Morehead disagreed, arguing that if travel is educational, then it is good for the school districts to have those miles to enable more people to go.

Other Business

The board also voted to revise the district’s policies on class size, bullying and student transportation safety policy.

The indoor air quality project at the high school was awarded to Cool Air Mechanical of St. Paul, which bid $3,110,000. Because the bids were higher than anticipated, the math and science area will not be included.

Instead, only the C wing, offices and media center will receive the upgrade.

Cabinets for the student-built house were made by former FLHS student Chris Dalbec.
Cabinets for the student-built house were made by former FLHS student Chris Dalbec.

Bids will open on March  25 for the house built by industrial technology students, and the school will approve the winning bid at the April meeting.

The board recognized the long years of service from retiring employees Nancy Calkins (34 years), Patrick Ellias (34 years), Dan Jacobs (34 years) and Carol Kuschke (29 years).

Jacobs and Kuschke will retire at the end of the school year, Ellias on Aug. 15 and Calkins on Oct. 1.

Donations to the district included $2,250 from seven donors for FFA and $5,455 for Wyoming Elementary from six donors. “We do have incredible support from far and wide,” Turner said.

The board also approved new courses Chinese II, Extended Emergency Care and Mathematical Modeling and Prediction, and approved changes to the social studies curriculum for grades 6 through 9.