Nome School Board addresses Title IX policy, need for substitutes, structural repairs
In a regular meeting on September 13, the Nome School Board gathered in the Nome Elementary School Library to discuss new board policies, address concerns and hear reports from school officials.
The meeting opened with the welcoming of new student representative Megan Contreras. Contreras is a senior at Nome-Beltz Jr./Sr. High School and will attend 2016-2017 school board meetings as the voice of her peers. Her report to the board summarized upcoming sporting events at the school and presented the student council’s ideas for the possible implementation of a “Big Brothers Big Sisters” style program, pairing junior high students with high school mentors.
The board congratulated students of the month Katlyn Smith and Starr Erikson. Hana Robb was named teacher of the month, recognized as an outstanding math teacher at the junior high school.
The board heard from Kirsten Timbers of the Nome Eskimo Community, as well as Marie Trigg and Sherri Anderson, who thanked the school board for their collaboration and asked for their continued partnership in future activities that bring together community members, elders, students and staff. Also presented to the board was a slideshow of photographs from Cultural Camp, a state-funded opportunity for Nome’s newest teachers to participate in subsistence activities like fishing and food preparation in order to learn more about the region and the culture where they teach.
Board members covered the implementation of new student handbooks and reviewed the new athletic calendar for 2016-2017. Board member Jennifer Reader addressed the fact that there are very few home games in Nome this school year, and the board agreed to explore the possibility of getting more home games and tournaments on future athletic calendars.
A topic of discussion for the board in Tuesday’s meeting was the issue of transgender students and nondiscrimination policies that fall under Title IX. The school board will implement AR 5145.3, an adopted resolution that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex against an employee or a student in public education. Under Title IX, all students in schools receiving any federal funding are protected from discrimination based on sex. Sex includes male, female, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.”
This is an adopted resolution, meaning it automatically becomes policy without a vote. On May 13 the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education sent a joint letter to school districts across the nation, which explained the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX and how it pertains to transgender students.
The point of interest with this resolution is that Alaska’s former Attorney General Craig Richards, who resigned from his post on June 23, sent a contradicting letter to public schools in Alaska on June 21 asking each district to individually decide on how they should respond to the Department of Justice’s letter. The Nome School Board seems to be in limbo on the policy, along with many other school districts across the nation. Following federal guidelines could mean a loss of funding from the state, while choosing to ignore federal policy could mean a risk for federal action. The abrupt resignation of Attorney General Richards further complicates matters. Superintendent Shawn Arnold said of the adopted policy, “we don’t want to be a district that the state or the feds make an example of.”
In other news, Nome Public Schools is seeking substitute teachers. Superintendent Arnold addressed the need to recruit more substitute teachers, emphasizing that Nome schools have had to combine classrooms of 40 to 60 kids at times. Recently, the pay was raised to entice more members of the community. Substitutes without a college degree will receive $150 per day, while those with a degree will receive $255 daily. Substitute teacher training sessions will be held in the upcoming months for interested citizens.
The board addressed structural and maintenance issues as well in the meeting. The septic system in the elementary school is in need of repair, as well as the roof at the high school. Both repair sites have undergone temporary fixes, although board members recognized that those patches are now coming up against an approaching winter. Superintendent Arnold said that the district is waiting to see if they can use any insurance money for either of the repairs, as it is unlikely that the state will fund anything in the remaining fiscal year. The needed repairs are expected to cost $15 million. On a plus side for maintenance, current pest inspections reported that Nome Public Schools are free of insects.
Before the meeting concluded, parent Bertha Koweluk spoke out during the public comment period. Koweluk expressed her concerns that the school board meetings were not very “parent-friendly.” She suggested that the school board work with the Native corporations to make the meetings more welcoming for interested parents. Koweluk wanted to know more about the transgender and sex education policies, suggesting to the board that students repeat sex education various times throughout their school career, with the hopes of lowering the teen-pregnancy rates in the community.
Board members took note of Koweluk’s concerns. Board member Jennifer Reader explained to Koweluk that the board by-laws do not allow them to respond directly to public comment during meetings. Board President Barb Amarok expressed her appreciation for the public comments, stating that the board would consider the mentioned issues. She also emphasized that for all of the policies discussed, their “purpose is to support students.”
The board will reconvene on Tuesday, September 27 for a work session at 5:30 p.m. in the Nome Elementary School Library.