Kivalina school to open Monday

Community still hasn't come to any agreement about the discipline problems

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE - 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 because of 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. But the district hopes to fly new teachers in by Sunday afternoon.

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

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.

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

Under a state law passed two years 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 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 it was enforced only this year. Community members may not have participated in its formation or may have misunderstood it, he said.

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