School board discusses summer school, gun policy and more

Uinta County School District No. 1 Trustee Cassie Torres speaks during an April 2019 meeting in Evanston as fellow trustees Caleb Guild, Kay Fackrell and Tammy Walker look on. (FILE PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 2, via videoconferencing due to COVID-19. The board has not met in person since early March, prior to the school closures and distancing requirements brought on by the pandemic.

The June meeting included reports from Evanston High School Principal Merle Lester and Horizon High School Principal Shad Hamilton on the high school graduation ceremonies that were drastically different this year. Lester said the EHS graduation had gone incredibly well and, “The only side effect is now people say they want to be outside every year.”

Lester said there are already plans in place to continue live streaming of the graduation ceremonies after more than 2,000 people viewed this year’s broadcast, as well as a continuation of the parade through town that took place this year.

Hamilton said the HHS outdoor ceremony also went over very well for the small number of graduates that gathered on the lawn in May.

District CFO John Williams provided the board with a budget update, noting as he has at previous meetings that the upcoming school year is looking good from a financial standpoint but there is a lot of uncertainty regarding future years given the poor statewide economic outlook. The formal annual budget hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 13.

The board will also discuss a feasibility study for a new EHS fieldhouse at the July meeting, potentially selecting a bonding company to pursue taking the question of pursuing bonding for the project to voters this November. 

District staff provided the board with an update on summer school plans. Assistant Superintendent Joe Ingalls said the district’s in-person summer school plans have been approved by the Wyoming Department of Health and Department of Education. For the roughly 100 K-5 students who will be attending, summer school will run from June 29 through July 24, five days a week. Classroom sizes will be limited and very small to allow for social distancing to be maintained. Ingalls said the ratio will be about seven students with one teacher.

Aspen Elementary Principal Steve Peterson is coordinating the sixth-grade through eighth-grade summer school program, which will run from 8:30-11:30 a.m. daily. Peterson said breakfast and lunch will be provided in classrooms rather than in the cafeteria, another change necessitated by COVID-19 requirements, with a maximum of 10-12 students per classroom.

At the high school, Lester said summer school will run from June 22 through July 9, with up to 15 students per classroom. Lester said the length of days at the high school will be somewhat longer, which will allow the program to finish up in fewer days.

School district attorney Geoff Phillips updated the board on efforts to reduce the size of the board from nine to seven people. Phillips said with the short time frame before the next election, as well as the necessity of convening a boundary board and that it simply makes more sense to consider a reduction in 2022 when five seats would be up for election instead of the three this year, the effort to transition to seven members would be put off until 2022.

Phillips’ legal counsel was also involved in the board’s response to community comments regarding the ongoing process of amending Rule CKA, the district’s concealed carry policy, to include firearm instructor qualifications. The board officially approved the district’s response to all comments received, both written and oral, during the public comment period.

Regarding Tim Beppler’s official objection lodged during the May public hearing, at which time he said referenced the lawsuit filed over the rule and the court’s ruling that CKA was invalid because it failed to include instructor qualifications, Phillips had drafted a statement saying amending the rule would remedy that situation and prove sufficient to validate the rule.

Superintendent Ryan Thomas noted there is still pending litigation in the matter, as defendants Tim and Katie Beppler, Nathan Prete and Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas have appealed the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court after the lower court ruled the rule was not unconstitutional. Thomas said, “There is a clear difference of opinion between the board and those opposed to the rule.”

Board chair Jami Brackin said the court had dismissed all claims in the lawsuit other than the claim related to instructor qualifications. “I want it on the record that the board looked at that claim, decided it was a good idea to include them and we thought we had it covered. It would have been fixed prior to the judge’s ruling if not for COVID.” (Editor’s Note: The original public hearing on the proposed amendment to include instructor qualifications in the rule was scheduled for March but had to be postponed due to COVID closures.)

Brackin continued by noting the court had specifically found the rule was not unconstitutional and said some of the written complaints received by individuals who had filed litigation over the rule referenced the failure to provide accommodations for those who did not want their children in classrooms with armed teachers.

“Quite frankly, that was part of the lawsuit that was dismissed,” said Brackin. “We respect where they’re coming from, but accommodations aren’t required.”

Brackin also emphasized that CKA was “just one tool in a toolbox” of many policies and programs the district is utilizing to ensure school safety, including the physical changes, the SafeDefend rapid alert system, ALICE training, the Rachel’s Challenge program at middle and high schools, additional student counseling resources and more.

Trustee Jenny Welling shared her concerns over how much money is being spent on legal fees related to the ongoing litigation. “It doesn’t sit well with me that some people keep doing this and costing the district more money,” she said.

Trustees also heard recommendations on a new standardized teacher evaluation system, which would ensure all teachers are being consistently evaluated by the same resource and the same program. Several teachers and staff members have been researching evaluation tools and recommended a Marzano program that aligns with the district’s High-Reliability Schools program that has been utilized for the past several years.

Teacher Caryn Piper, who was on the committee evaluating resources, said she is impressed that the Marzano program also includes tools for evaluation of paraprofessionals and other district staff members who are not classroom teachers. “It’s very comprehensive,” said Piper.

Teachers Ty Ruby and Elle Porter also shared their endorsement of the program. “It’s a great way for teachers to improve and better meet the needs of students,” said Ruby, while Porter said the program “will help teachers grow and improve and avoid complacency.”

Ingalls said purchasing the program would cost the district $47,000 for the first year and another approximately $20,000 annually. Assistant Superintendent Doug Rigby said that money would come from federal Title II grant funds.

Trustees also approved an approximately $91,000 expenditure for the district’s new high school science curriculum package and program, which is the cost for eight years of INSPIRE biology, chemistry, earth science, physical science, physics and AP chemistry.

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