District's top official says Kivalina school will reopen Monday

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Kivalina's only school will reopen Monday, even though the community has not come to an agreement regarding discipline standards.

Charles Mason, chief executive officer of the Northwest Arctic School District, said classes at McQueen School in the community 80 miles northwest of Kotzebue would be open to all students, weather permitting. A storm is predicted and there could be a problem flying in new teachers, Mason said.

Mason ordered McQueen School closed Feb. 27 amid complaints by staff members of physical and verbal harassment. Teachers said some students exhibited blatant disrespect and ignored school rules, and parents took no action in response. Mason said the district was unable to provide a safe and appropriate learning environment due to threatening and ''assaultive'' conduct by some community residents.

McQueen School serves children from kindergarten through high school in the village of 377. The school has 11 certified teaching positions and about 11 more classified employees. Five teachers accepted transfers after the school closed.

Shirley Holloway, commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, has strongly urged the district to reopen the school.

Last week she appointed an independent committee to review the closure. Committee members were to gather in Kotzebue on Friday night, fly to Kivalina on Saturday, return to Kotzebue on Monday afternoon and begin assembling recommendations Tuesday.

The district hopes to fly new teachers in by Sunday afternoon.

The school will reopen with a security officer on hand, a retired Kotzebue police officer trained in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, commonly referred to as DARE. Besides providing security, the officer will assist with anti-drug, tobacco and alcohol education.

Monday and Tuesday are scheduled holidays on the district's calendar. The school board and the McQueen School Advisory Board met for two and a half hours Thursday and afterward voted to waive the board policy regarding the holidays so the school could reopen.

A key to the reopening was to be the school's discipline policy. At a community meeting following the closure, some community members said school rules were too harsh and enforced too rigidly.

Under a state law passed two year ago, school boards are prohibited from firing teachers, teaching assistants and principals for enforcing an approved discipline or safety program. The law requires school boards to adopt written standards for student behavior that reflect community standards. The standards must show when a teacher is authorized to remove a student from a classroom.

Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, wrote the bill after hearing of Alaska schools in which students were not penalized for using profanity and in which teachers were afraid to report abuse of students for fear of losing their jobs.

The law requires every school district to collect community and parent testimony of acceptable behavior and safety standards.

Mason said the discipline policy at McQueen has been on the books since the law was passed but was enforced only this year. Community members may not have participated in its formation or may have misunderstood it.

Since the school closure, the McQueen School advisory board has met with community members at least once and possibly twice to review and revise the school discipline plan, Mason said.

Mason said last week the school would open Monday if district officials received commitments from community residents to back discipline standards. The school will reopen despite additional meetings needed to complete the review.

''We've been pushed real hard to get the kids back in school,'' Mason said.



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