School board hears updates ahead of new school year

Published 4:59 am Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Visitors will be allowed back in school buildings, among other changes

Things are starting to look more like they did pre-pandemic at schools in Albert Lea Area Schools, according to a report by school leaders during Monday’s school board meeting.

Halverson Elementary School Principal Tonya Franks, Southwest Middle School Principal Tyler Johnson and Albert Lea High School Principal Chris Dibble discussed with board members the new elementary and secondary school handbooks, as well as the activities handbook.

“Very minimal updates to our district-wide elementary handbook this year,” Franks said.

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Franks told the board the elementary schools were working diligently on purposeful connections with families regarding attendance.

Dismissal time at the elementary schools will also be changed. The 2:45 p.m. dismissal will remain the same, but buses will leave at 2:50 p.m. now.

“The reason for this change is to match the 330 minutes in the teacher contract, which is different than last year’s 335,” she said.

Also this year, visitors and volunteers will be allowed back into buildings.

Dibble announced that with the help of an advisory program, phones can be used under certain circumstances..

“We want to teach students to use phones appropriately,” he said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that phones aren’t going anywhere. They seem to be around to stay.”

Instead, he wants to teach students skills during advisories and classrooms on using them responsibly.

The high school will also allow students to wear hats and hoods.

“When you start every day with a kid walking through the door and telling them, “Hi, I’m glad you’re here, take your hat off,’ it starts us on a negative foot,” he said.

Under the change, teachers and administrators must be able to see eyes and ears in any situation.

“We’re meeting our students where they are,” he said. “It takes out some of that, ‘Boy, do I just skip school because I got up late or do I throw a hat on and go.’”

The board passed a series of revisions to school policies after Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services, discussed them for review, which related to the maltreatment of minors moving from criminal statute to public health statute. 

“In January, MSBA notified school districts that they were doing a deep review and revision of existing policies,” she said.

The first deep review was about unit one, which involved six policies, and the Minnesota Legislature reorganized the Maltreatment of Minors Act by moving it from the criminal law chapter to a public health chapter.

According to Niebuhr, under Policy 414, pertaining to the mandatory reporting of child neglect, a lot of the statute will remain the same, but parts were moved around. 

“Mental injury is defined later in the old policy and moved up,” she said.

The terms “his” and “her” were removed and replaced with “the child.”

The district will file reports not only locally with Freeborn County but also the Minnesota Department of Education.

Policy 532, which relates to the use of peace officers and crisis teams in removing students with IEPs from school grounds, informed the board that “substantial” changes were made under the definition of unreasonable force. Unreasonable force was identified as corporal punishment and is prohibited by Minnesota statute.

“Restrictive procedures are only done by trained personnel in the school system, and that is operated under our executive director of special services and that department and all those staff are trained,” she said. 

The minimum pay for short-term substitute teachers will be $25 for any part of a teaching day. Short-term substitutes will earn $75 for working anywhere from over one hour to four hours, while those working more than four hours will be paid $150.

The board agreed to a memorandum of understanding between the district and the Albert Lea Para Educator Association where para educators will work on days students are in school and on “such other days, if any, as may be assigned by the school district.”

In a monthly bill report, the district spent about $2.59 million through Aug. 15, while the board accepted donations totaling about $35,032.

Under consent items, board members agreed to appointments for Karie Zierden, Shayanne Sailor, Yessica Cabera Svensen, Emily Cremeans, Holly Hofland, Angelyn Nelson, Stephanie Breuer, Presley Duenes, Alyson Halverson, Brittany Olson, Susan Hanson, Ricki Waters, Shelly DeVries, Wmwe Win, Michelle McDonald, Patricia Larson, Cesar Zamora Victorino, Wilson Bohada Pacheco, Kristine Wallstrom and Hannah Steele.

The board agreed to leaves of absence for Amy White and Breanna Rhiner, and they accepted the retirement of Brent Bergland, as well as the resignations of Tashina Dodge and Ka See Yar.