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July 20, 2019

6/18/2019 7:30:00 AM
Panel approves school resource officer policy

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

With the 2018-'19 school year over and the 2019-'20 term just a few months away, the School District of Rhinelander operations and strategic planning committee spent some time June 10 discussing a policy proposal and several revisions.

The new proposal discussed would cover the three Oneida County sheriff's deputies, known as school resource officers, contracted to work in Rhinelander schools.

According to district administrators, the proposed school resource officer policy was recommended by NEOLA, the group that reviews district policies to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal laws.

Board member David Holperin had a question about the first point in the proposed policy, "placement of a designated SRO (school resource officer) in specific schools on specific days and times."

"Why do that instead of scattering the time where it cannot be determined where they will be at?" Holperin asked.

Superintendent Kelli Jacobi explained that one SRO is based at the high school and a second in the middle school, with the third rotating between the four elementary schools.

"It's building those relationships, which is key to our whole SRO program," Jacobi said. "They're at school during the school day when schools are in session."

"One reason I am asking is, the purpose of having liaison officers there is safety in the program and to protect the school," Holperin replied. "Wouldn't it be better if people didn't know what their schedule is...."

"We want them there everyday," Jacobi pointed out.

Holperin said he was opposed to that aspect of the proposed policy.

"We can know what their schedules are, but why should everyone else?" he asked.

"No information more than what is here (in the policy) would be reported," Jacobi said, adding the schedules of the SROs will not be made available to the general public.

Holperin also asked about the requirement in the policy that the sheriff's department provide an annual report to the district that summarizes the activity that took place over the course of the previous school year.

"Only once a year? Why not more than that?" he asked.

"We meet much more frequently," the superintendent said. "This would be an end of the year going over the year. But I meet with the SROs themselves, (Captain) Tyler Young, who oversees the SRO program, and then (Sheriff) Grady Hartman. The goal is monthly, but sometimes it's every other month."

With those answers, Holperin withdrew his objections and voted with chair Mike Roberts to approve the policy. Committee member Ben Roskoskey was absent from the meeting.

The next discussion centered around three revisions to policies concerning weapons, facility security and staff use of personal communications devices.

Holperin questioned the last point in the proposed weapons revision which pertains to people with concealed carry permits. Under state statute, having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school or school property is forbidden. However, people with concealed carry permits can carry weapons within that buffer since the concealed carry statute was written in 2014, but not onto school grounds itself.

"This pertains in earlier language to instructors, students and everybody, including visitors," Holperin said. "So my question is, how do visitors know that that rule exists? We get parents, we get people who come to the school district. I know people who are concealed carry, and I'm pretty certain they don't know that rule exists that they cannot carry anything on school grounds."

"I believe that when you get a concealed carry, you have to sign saying you've read the rules," noted board president Ron Counter.

"And we have signs up in all of our buildings," Jacobi added.

When Holperin asked what the penalty is if someone is caught on school grounds with a weapon, Counter advised that it is a felony.

State statute makes it a class I felony to knowingly carry a firearm onto school grounds. The maximum penalty is three-and-a-half years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

The three revisions to operations policy passed unanimously.

The next nine policy revisions the committee discussed pertained to district operations, including notification of educational options, public records, student records, environmental health and safety program, school safety and crisis intervention, school safety and emergency preparedness, student abuse and neglect, food services and student accident insurance.

Holperin questioned numerous parts of the environmental policy and the committee tabled it until Jacobi could get clarification from NEOLA.

He also sparked a lengthy discussion on the food service revisions, particularly the section of the policy that states the board would have to approve and implement nutrition standards governing the types of food and beverages that may be sold on school grounds.

"When it says the board shall approve and implement nutrition standards, wouldn't it be the board's responsibility to outsource this to people who are in the know?" Holperin asked. "Shouldn't the board be responsible for outsourcing and hiring a nutritional expert to keep us in compliance with the law, as opposed to we, as a board, having to approve and implement certain standards, certain types of foods, certain beverages being sold in certain places, etc. etc.?"

"The board made decisions as to what would be followed in the district originally to put this in motion," Jacob said. "So this is already in place."

Holperin said he thought the district's food service contractor kept the district in compliance with state and federal laws, and Jacobi agreed that it does. But the original policy was approved by the board before the present contractor was hired, she explained.

Holperin said the revisions made it look as if the board would have to approve much more than it currently does. He was concerned that every time the laws or standards change, the board would have to specifically approve each change to what is offered.

"This covers those items that aren't specifically covered by food service during the actual meal," Roberts said.

Holperin also noted the changes seem to exclude the contractor and make the board responsible for approving each individual food and beverage sold on school grounds.

Jacobi said that when NEOLA writes a policy that says "the board shall" it also means the district shall do that, and the board approves the proposed action by the administrations recommendations.

"It's like with graduation when they say 'the board has certified,'" Counter added.

Holperin asked if the word "board" could be changed to "district" or include "or delegate" in that one spot, but Counter said he was uncomfortable making that change.

"Because if we delegate it, that means we don't have any say in it at all," Counter said. "That we are basically giving up any say that we may have to whoever we delegate it to."

Holperin agreed with that reasoning, and moved on to his next question on the proposed revision which pertained to negative balances in student's food service accounts.

"I'm just curious, we do run negative account balances for lunches for some kids," Holperin said. "Is this a big problem in the district or a small problem?"

Jacobi said "it's always a problem," and that when a student's account approaches zero, automated calls are made several times to the parents informing them of the issue.

"We have an angel account in place for families in crisis that maybe don't qualify for free and reduced (lunch), there's been a serious illness or a job loss. So we can help with lunches for those children if we know there is a problem."

She said there are a small number of families "that take advantage of the situation," but the administration works to make sure none of the accounts "get out of control in the red."

Holperin noted that the district has to provide an alternative lunch for these students and asked what that was.

"A cheese sandwich and a carton of milk," Jacobi replied.

Holperin asked if "that was a lot of trouble?"

"We're prepared to do it," Jacobi replied. "It seems to make a difference in those balances. Money gets put into the account."

With that, the committee turned its attention to the final three policies.

Those policies pertained to public complaints/concerns, school visitors and public attendance at school events. All three passed with no discussion.

After the final vote, Jacobi asked the committee if there were too many policy revisions to consider at one time.

"There is a lot of policy work going on right now," she said. "Is this a doable amount, am I pushing too fast?"

Roberts noted that even with a special school board meeting scheduled to start an hour after the committee meeting convened, the board was still able to finish the review in under 30 minutes.

"You could have added a few more in here," Roberts said.

The full board was scheduled to vote on the policies at Monday's meeting which was scheduled to take place after press time for this edition.

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