Busing, attendance policy questioned at Blue Ridge

BY STACI WILSON

While the Blue Ridge Board has spent two months debating when students should return to class after the summer break, parents in the district were more concerned with transportation issues and the school attendance policy at Monday night’s board meeting.

A parent of a pre-kindergarten student told the board she was concerned about student safety and behavioral issues occurring on the bus of students ages 4 and 5 and advocated for the district to hire a replacement for the aide who left the position in mid-March.

“I really think there needs to be one,” the parent told the board.

At the work session held last week, Superintendent Robert McTiernan said there were no plans to fill the position following the March 18 resignation of bus aide Dawn Wilson. He said at the work session the state does not require bus aides for the pre-kindergarten students.

At the board meeting, he told the parent that the district was in discussions with the bus contractor to replace the bus monitor.

Other parents at the meeting said their children’s bus ride from Great Bend was over one hour to and from school – more time than they would like and asked the board if the district would be attempting to work out the bus routes more effectively for next year.

McTiernan said the district would be working with the transportation software company utilized by Blue Ridge to optimize the bus routes for the students and the contractors.

Several parents also voiced their concerns over the district’s attendance policy and confusion related to half day absences and excused versus unexcused absences.

Board President Laurie Brown-Bonner said the attendance policy was on the district website.

Bonner said that after 10 absences, students were required to provide a doctor’s note. “It’s inconvenient, but we want to make sure (students) are in school,” Bonner said.

McTiernan said the policy is also in the student handbooks which were disseminated to students – and parents had to sign them- at the beginning of the school year.

He said the district is now being more diligent on how the policy is being implemented.

A truancy elimination plan is being put in place for students with over 10 absences.

Parents questioned the need to take a child to the doctor after the student had been sent home by the school nurse.

Board members said they had little control over much of the attendance policy- much of which is mandated through the school code.

Blue Ridge students will head back to class after Labor Day in 2014-15. A 5-3 vote keeps the post-holiday start in place for another school year.

Board members Harold Empett, Shane Rumage and Chris Lewis opposed the September start date – advocating for a return to class in late August; while affirmative votes from Laurie Brown-Bonner, Christina Cosmello, Christina Whitney, Michael Detwiler and Patrick MacConnell carried the motion.

An exchange regarding the calendar between Whitney and Lewis became heated – carrying over from a debate that began at the work session.

As Whitney interrupted a statement by Lewis, he replied, “Let me talk” and said the fellow board member was not showing respect to an opinion that ran contrary to hers.

“You hear what you want to hear,” Whitney replied.

Bonner closed the discussion and noted that the calendar had become a “hot button issue.”

In other business, the board approved Jill Hoffman as the Athletic Director, effective July 1- June 30, 2017, at a salary of $8,000 per year. Lewis cast the only dissenting vote.

No motion was made on the agenda item to allow for the district to participate in the Arts Alive program through NEIU #19 for the 2014-15 school year.

Facilities and grounds chair Harold Empett reported the bids have been advertised for the construction of the stairs to the track at the high school field.

High School Principal Matthew Nebzudoski recognized Shania Yachymiak and Leif-Axel Berg as the senior class students of the month.

Berg, along with Alex Dennis, were also recognized for being named Times-Tribune Scholastic Superstar Team members.

David Clemens was recognized by the board for making a significant contribution to the high school production of “Annie,” which will be staged April 26-27.

Sarrah Dibble-Camburn and the fifth grade art club were also recognized for raising funds for the Susquehanna County Interfaith fuel assistance program. The hexagon project donation boxes collected $1,357 for the program.