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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If there is any subject that should not seem contentious it would be school safety, because doesn’t everyone want kids to be safe at school?
As it turned out, school safety was not so much the issue, but rather, whether students who make threats at school should be charged with a felony offense.
Ken Neuburg, the Colfax Board of Education’s voting representative on resolutions at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention in January, reported at the school board’s February 18 meeting on the resolutions that were passed supporting certain legislation.
The resolutions clipped right along, with large majorities approving the resolutions for the first 15, such as 267 in favor to 7 against, until the resolution about school safety came up for a vote, he said.
The wording of resolution resulted in delegates discussing the issue for an hour, Neuburg said.
The sticking point was supporting legislation that would allow prosecutors to bring felony charges against students who made school threats or presented false information about school threats, he said.
A student who left a note in a bathroom at school about a bomb threat could be charged with a felony, but a student who made the same threat on social media could be charged with a misdemeanor, Neuburg said.
According to the resolution, “To further enhance school safety, the WASB requests that the state Legislature and Governor enact comprehensive school safety legislation, including: Legislation allowing prosecutors to bring felony charges against any individual who intentionally conveys a threat or false information concerning an attempt to use a dangerous weapon (including a firearm) to injure or kill a person on school property, on transportation provided by a school, or at an event sanctioned by a school.”
A number of delegates at the convention did not believe a high school student should be charged with a felony in those circumstances and then have a felony on his or her record, Neuburg said.
Delegates were lined up at the microphone to speak about their views on the subject, he said.
After an hour of debate, the words “if appropriate” were applied to charging individuals with a felony, and then the resolution passed on a vote of 196 to 83, Neuburg said.
The resolution also included support for legislation to allocate sufficient funds to increase the number of school resource officers who are fully-trained law enforcement officers, he said.
In addition, the resolution supported legislation to allocate sufficient funds to enable school districts to make needed security improvements; to enable school districts to offer enhanced mental health services for students and staff who need help; and to equip school crisis teams to react to threats before they become actual emergencies.
All together, 22 resolutions were approved and forwarded to the legislature, Neuburg said.
One private school in Florida is hiring combat veterans for school safety, said William C. Yingst Jr, district administrator.
The veterans receive a certain amount of training, and when they have completed their training, they are armed with rifles and are standing in the school holding rifles, he said.
While school safety does not seem as if it should be a polarizing topic, certain aspects of it become quite polarizing, Yingst noted.
Additional polarization occurs around “dollars that don’t exist” for finding money to pay for school safety, he said.
As always, the state school board convention had a number of vendors set up, and there was anything and everything for school safety, noted Ken Bjork, school board member.
Bjork said he was pleased to see that everything for school safety the vendors were offering, Colfax has already installed or will be installing.
The safety features vendors were promoting included window film that essentially makes ordinary windows bullet-proof and door locks with key fob entry.
Christie Hill provided information she had found at the WASB convention on a program for online school that could work well for students who are expelled.
The question is, if a student presents a safety risk to the school, how does that student get an education, Hill said.
The program is out of Medford with a teacher available for the virtual school, she said.
Neuburg also attended a presentation at the convention on solar energy.
The presentation was a “how to” on solar panels and how to install solar in Wisconsin, he said.
Sunny, southern California is a good place to install solar, but even in Wisconsin, solar can be effective, Neuburg said.
Neuburg said the most inspirational part of the convention was keynote speaker, Steve Pemberton, the author of the book “A Chance in the World.”
Pemberton’s book is a memoir about his childhood and growing up in foster care. One of his early memories in foster care was of being afraid to get in a car, and instead of reassuring him and helping him through his fear, the couple drove off and left him alone for hours, until well after dark. The house door was locked, so at four years old, he sat on the porch steps by himself until they came home.
Pemberton is the divisional vice-president and chief diversity officer for Walgreens and lives in Chicago with his family.
“He was the most inspirational speaker I’ve ever seen,” Neuburg said.
A restored 1967 Camaro also was part of the WASB convention.
Neuburg said he could not resist going to see the car as it sat on display on the convention floor.
The car was a project for an auto restoration class at Waupaca High School, and Neuburg said he was able to talk to the teacher, the superintendent and some of the students in the class.
While not all high schools have the resources to include an auto restoration class, Neuburg said if such a thing had been available when he was in high school, he would have been in that class.
“I still want to be in that class,” he said.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Learned that the high school play performance of “Newsies” will be Friday, March 22, Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24.
• Learned that summer school swimming classes will be June 3 through June 14 at the Elk Mound High School pool — barring any additional bad weather that results in snow days off from school, Yingst said.
• Learned that the summer school dates at Colfax Elementary will be June 17 to June 28.
• Approved hiring Ryan Krall as the head track coach and assistant coaches Joe Doucette/Chuck Brown (shared position); Tina Rothbauer; Brittany (Rothbauer) DeMoe; and Dannielle Dachel.
• Approved for a second reading policies on the homebound instruction program; recording of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team meetings; administration of medication/emergency care; district web page; letters of reference; food services; district support organizations; and relations with non-school affiliated groups.