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Town hall on school safety starts parent dialogue

Midway through the May 28 La Conner School District town hall, a forum to discuss discipline, safety and prevention/intervention support against vaping, marijuana and drugs, a parent asked the key question: “What is the issue we’re talking about? What is the white elephant in the room? Is it drugs, guns, substance abuse? What’s the issue?”

The 50 parents, students and school staff attending had heard presentations from Middle and High School Principal Todd Torgeson Elementary School Principal Bev Bowen, Kathy Herrera, assistant principal and athletic director, Christine Valdez, prevention/intervention specialist, and high school seniors Jack Tronsdal and Kayla Hagen.

Hagen was speaking for Samantha Nelson, the junior who led the full day walkout of up to 40 students two weeks earlier. Nelson had found a student vomiting into a bathroom toilet from taking a drug laced with contaminants earlier this year. Nelson was unable to attend.

Valdez gave the longest presentation, sharing details and effects of marijuana and vaping on teenagers.

The students’ main grievance: the administration was not acting on their complaints. Tronsdal, who emceed, told the assembled “We’re being looked at and heard, but not being understood.” The students wanted action, but Tronsdal said they “felt like nothing happened” regarding issues raised last year, only that administrators “were working on it but couldn’t tell you details”.

Parents asked for answers and for information to be provided to their children and to them. Katie Carson said her seventh grader told her a student OD’d in math class. She wanted to know why student assemblies were not called. “There’s a strong voice of students saying, ‘let’s talk,’” she said.

Other parents echoed that, also advocating for a letter from the administration. One called for “an assembly, a letter. Have a conversation with the kids.” This parent said, “We send kids off to school thinking they were going to a safe place. I hear this and I think it’s not a safe place.”

Junior Dominique Wilbur offered “Next steps: send a letter home to parents. . . . Next time legally share everything you can with parents. My mom and others want to hear about things as soon as possible.”

Hagen affirmed the need for information “We just don’t know. You need to tell us, not all the steps. You just need to tell us. A bunch of us want to be told ‘this is happening.’”

Superintendent Whitney Meissner expressed her concern for using a whole school assembly to address these issues, saying. “this is not our first choice.” Instead, she suggested teachers lead class discussions with guided questions. “One of the hardest things to deal with is news and truth” in this small school system, she said.

Meissner said a letter would go out, that conversations would start with kids and they would plan having conversations with parents.

A parent challenged her: “Now that the administration knows children are telling you that students are doing drugs, what’s gong to happen?” Another parent followed up “How is letting (expelled) children back in our school safe for our child?”

Meissner responded “We hear your questions. We hear the need for safety. We are charged to educate all children. We have zero tolerance.” She said that new state and federal regulations will make it harder to expel students next year. Schools will be required to work with students to “learn to fix the mistakes they caused.”

Director of Bands and Choirs McKenzie Clark spoke last. “I still maintain that school is the safest place for our students.” He echoed the students: “The lack of information is a source of frustration. Dominique Wilbur summarized it: ‘Share all the legal things you can as soon as you can.’”

The almost two hour meeting was held in the district’s Bruce Performing Arts Center.


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