GROSS: School policies meant to provide opportunityI do feel that the Mitchell School District and I were a bit misrepresented in the article.
By: GEOFF GROSS, Guest columnist
I am writing in response to an article that was printed in the Sept. 19 edition of The Daily Republic dealing with the revised School District Policy No. 1141. The angle that The Daily Republic or any newspaper uses to tell a story is up to them; that is their prerogative. I do feel, however, that the Mitchell School District and I were a bit misrepresented in the article.
Let me pre-empt my writing here by saying that I, and most every educational employee that I have ever been around — teacher, administrator, maintenance person, board member — all do what we do in our role to give kids opportunities, not to take them away. That is the mission of our profession. If we are not doing that, then we should not be in this field. Thus, I took a bit of personal insult from the article as I feel that it portrayed me as not wanting kids to have opportunities. Quite the contrary, I do what I do to create opportunities for kids, particularly the students of the Mitchell School District. That is my job and my responsibility, and I try to do that to the best of my ability. If I am not able to do that, than I should be removed from my position.
Specifically, let me describe the policy that has been revised slightly and the intention of the administrators and board members of the Mitchell School District in doing so, as well as the process behind it. Every seven to eight years it is the practice of the district administrators in conjunction with the school board to review all district policies looking for things that need to be updated, addressed and revised. Over the past six years, the policy dealing with district facilities has been unchanged. Even though this policy was not up for review because of the regular policy rotation, the district had experienced enough changes to require its revision. Since its last review in August 2006, the district has had several facilities either built or renovated, so most of the changes that were made revolved around updating the list of facilities available, deciding which facilities could be used safely by outside entities and then trying to come up with a rental scale that was appropriate.
All of these items were discussed using input from the various building administrators from around the district and comparing our facilities to the similar facilities of other districts similar to ours. There were not many things that needed to be addressed: the committee of administrators did recommend raising the rental rates of a few facilities around the district (rates had been unchanged for the last 15-20 years), adding a few facilities to the list of those that could be rented, and removing a few facilities that it was felt could pose a liability issue and safety issue if rented out — shop rooms and science labs, for instance.
Another issue that was brought up in the article was the use of district facilities by Mitchell School District staff for limited personal use. The former version of the policy read that district employees may have used district “facilities with spouse or children”; the current version now reads they “may use facilities in which they work with family members.” The reason for this change was due to the feeling of the committee that staff are most familiar with the building they work in, have access to keys, and know where lights and other items are at for proper closing down of the facility. This is a very similar practice to all the districts that I have been employed at and is a pretty common practice overall.
The third and probably most confusing and inflammatory item that The Daily Republic’s article mentioned was the use of school district facilities by “youth club sports.” This item was added to the most recent revision of the policy. In recent years, a growing number of club teams have been using district facilities for practices. Some of these groups have scheduled their practices and meetings appropriately with the building administrator and have followed policies and practices similar to the Mitchell School District activities. Others have not. Furthermore, it was difficult to deal with these teams and organizations consistently because we did not have a policy and procedure in place.
The Daily Republic’s article made it sound like all youth club teams would be charged for use of the district’s facilities. This is not the intention of the district in dealing with these instances or administering this policy. If the club teams that use our facilities follow the same guidelines as the other schoolsponsored activities, they will be allowed use of the facility as in the past, at no charge. Let me use an example: It is my expectation as activities director that any open gyms that we hold in any of our sports are advertised to our entire student body; this is not only my expectation but also a rule of the South Dakota High School Activities Association. This allows all students to have the same opportunity to participate. Our expectation as a district is for those groups that are using our facilities at no charge to follow these same guidelines. If that is not happening, then the group is a private team not open to every student of the Mitchell School District and is expected to pay a rental fee. As long as club teams post their activities as open gyms, reserve the facility and have a qualified district employee present, they may use the facilities free of charge if the facilities are available.
The problem comes when groups are pre-selected, not open to all Mitchell School District students for participation, and district facilities are used. The policy has never allowed for this and it was not worded clearly. One of the intentions of revising the policy was to clarify these types of situations and avoid confusion.
The reason I do what I do, and a big reason why I love my job, as do most in education, is to give all our kids opportunities. Not some of our kids, or even most of our kids, but all of them. This doesn’t mean they will all take advantage of those opportunities, but we must provide them equally. That is one of the reasons why it is illegal in the state of South Dakota to have a pay-toplay policy. Inevitably, this would deny some students access. In revising this policy, the Mitchell School District is trying to assure that all our students receive the same opportunities. If we don’t do that, then we are not fulfilling our responsibility to them.
Geoff Gross is the Mitchell High School activities director.