Residents petition school board over gun policy

© 2018-Uinta County Herald

EVANSTON — A lengthy agenda resulted in a four-hour meeting for the Uinta County School District No. 1 board of trustees for the regular meeting on Tuesday, May 8, not including time spent in executive session. Agenda items included presentations from Region V BOCES and the student services and technology departments, a proposal from Dominion Energy requesting an easement at North Elementary for gas line reinforcement, a renewal of district employee health insurance, school reports and multiple other items. Trustee Kim Bateman was not present for the meeting.

A noteworthy development that was not on the agenda was the presentation of a community petition during the public comments portion of the meeting, when Evanston resident Gina Morrow presented a petition to the board asking the district to halt implementation of the recently-adopted Policy CKA, which allows staff members to apply for approval to carry firearms on school property. 

Morrow said the petition had been signed by 146 concerned members of the community, including students, parents, grandparents, teachers, former teachers, school district staff members and citizens. She said signatures were still being collected and the signatures on the petition to that point had been collected in six days. 

 “This petition is based on the belief that the board should make evidence-based decisions,” she said. “Two years ago, the board took an oath to be more transparent to the members of this community. This petition gives you, the board, this great opportunity.” 

The petition specifically asks the district to disclose information and evidence the board relied on in deciding to adopt the policy, disclose information regarding any less extreme measures that were considered, disclose information about how the advisory committee on the policy was organized, disclose how much the policy will cost the district, disclose any contributions and funds the district has received from outside sources and have a third reading of the policy that is widely publicized in the community. 

The petition further requests that the district create a procedure through which parents can request their children not be forced to be in contact with armed staff, create a procedure to prevent the use of confidentiality as a barrier to transparency, create procedures for principals to request that staff in their schools not be armed and create gun-free schools within the district so that parents may choose where to send their children.

“During the second reading there was clear confusion within the board and district employees regarding the number of readings that would be held to discuss this policy,” Morrow said. “It is obvious this policy has not been clearly thought out and should not be rushed into implementation.” 

She went on to say she knew everyone had the common goal of keeping children safe. “However,” she said, “rushing this policy to fruition without regard for common sense and evidence is a grave mistake. This should not be taken lightly and rushed into policy just because we have to ‘do something.’”

The petition closed with a request for a written response from the district within 30 days. 

Neither the trustees nor district administration made any comments regarding the petition Morrow presented throughout the duration of the public meeting.

Trustees voted in March to allow firearms on school district property, making UCSD No. 1 the first to do so in Wyoming. Park County School District No. 6 followed suit in April.

In other business, presentations from district English teachers at all grade levels regarding the selection of a new curriculum for both K-5 and 6-12 instruction were heard. The trustees voted to approve the purchase of the Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts program for grades K-5 at a total cost of approximately $380,000. Assistant Superintendent Joe Ingalls said this is a decade-long commitment to using the same program as part of a focus on guaranteed and viable curriculum. 

“Some of the kids who will be using this program haven’t even been born yet,” said Ingalls. Teachers have had an opportunity to pilot the program over the last several months, and literacy coach Becky Symes said Core Knowledge uses an integrated approach that combines reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary, along with subject matter that includes science, social studies, history and art for a “richer and deeper experience and understanding.” 

Grades 6-12 are also in line for a new program. Middle school teachers Brad Francis and Kerry Stocks and high school teacher Aaron Dalton explained the process that has taken place throughout the school year to research different programs and make a selection. Each grade level from grades 6 through 12 had one vote when choosing a program, so teachers at each grade had to come to consensus prior to voting. 

A 6-12 program called StudySync by McGraw-Hill was selected, largely because it incorporates novels and supplemental online resources into the curriculum. Francis said one of the great parts of the program is that it extends from grades 6 through 12 so that teachers at each grade will know exactly what material was covered by students in previous grades, and teachers met together to decide which novels would be covered at each grade level. 

The StudySync program would come at a price tag of nearly $240,000 for an eight-year program, with an additional nearly $25,000 for four novels per grade level and approximately $6,000 for AP English literature materials. Approval of the recommended program will be on a later agenda. 

Superintendent Ryan Thomas presented the first budget numbers for the 2018-19 school year. As in previous meetings, he said operational budgets had been cut 15 percent over the past two years and staffing cuts have been made through attrition. Thomas said he believes they have found a way to maintain transportation for the after-school program through next year, but cautioned that is a one-year, temporary fix.

Thomas said there will definitely be some pinches and inconveniences next school year, and added he is concerned about the future if the trend of funding cuts continues.

“Something needs to happen and happen quickly with the legislature,” he said.

The formal budget needs to be passed by mid-July, with the budget meeting scheduled for Wednesday, July 18.

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