Powerful public comments at Feb. SSD meeting

TAG, head lice policy also discussed

Feb. 18, 2023 — The Siuslaw School District (SSD) met for its monthly meeting on Feb. 8 at the district office.

A parent distressed by the treatment of his daughters was the most impactful moment of the night and he was followed by impassioned plea for the “return of prayer” to schools by another public commenter.

Teacher Kelly Dotson reviewed the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG), a review of the district’s head-lice policy occurred and Student Representative Jacob Blankenship gave the results of survey he conducted amongst his peers which had some very definitive results.

Finally, near the end of the meeting came the announcement of the upcoming retirement of an employee that is integral to the everyday operation of the district and will be greatly missed.

Joel Walk, a Florence parent of four daughters, was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. He began by giving his background with juvenile corrections for the past 20 years. He then described a series of incidents that he believes gave him no choice but to pull two of his daughters from school.

“I have four girls in the school district — a high schooler, middle schooler and two in grade school,” explained Walk. “In my career I've dealt with violent offenders. I've dealt with murderers, gang members, shooters, rapists — you can name it. I've not been physically assaulted or touched one time in my 20 years of experience. I've only been threatened one maybe two times in my career. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my 10- and 11-year-old daughters in this grade school.”

Walk described the history of incidents involving his second-oldest daughter.

“Going back to last year she received threats from a student who is no longer here,” said Walk. “I will be blunt and I’m going to be graphic here, but he said my daughter should cut off her head. She has been pushed in lines in front of teachers and aides. She told her sister that on the bus she was told that the only thing a man should do to you is rape you. I discussed this with principles and assistant principals last year and brought this to attention.”

Walk said that as the result of his complaints, his daughter was told to simply avoid her harasser.

“The only kind of conditions they had was when they got on the playground or around each other, they would say ‘hey, you guys can’t be here,’ explained Walk. “She’s a victim. She doesn’t need to look for these guys. They need to stay away from her.”

Walk said that incident was “resolved” but this was not the end of his daughter’s issues.

“I found out two days ago from my same daughter that the same thing was happening with another student, in front of teachers,” said Walk. “She’s hearing things like ‘You need to suck this d—k’ and ‘You miss these nuts’.”

Walk explained this is not what he expected his daughters to face in elementary school, and that he wanted these incidents brought out into the public so they end before other students face the same problems his daughters have.

It is the board policy not to respond to public comments, though Chair Bob Sneddon mentioned after Walk’s comments that someone from the district would be in touch with him in the next few days.

Speaking immediately after Walk, longtime Florence resident Jesse Chapman spoke. Chapman wants prayer in schools.

“Something that is not being taught in schools that was taught when I went through Siuslaw High School was the value of having a relationship with God,” said Chapman. “We were allowed to pray openly in school until I was in third grade. We need to get prayer back in our schools. We need to get God back in our schools.”

Chapman then summed up his comments with a quote from the 1993 movie Rudy.

“Rudy, who plays for Notre Dame, his chaplain walks in and says ‘Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and...I am not Him.,” said Chapman. “If we can talk about God why can’t we talk to God?”

After public comments, Siuslaw Middle School teacher Kelly Dotson gave a presentation on the district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) Program that she is coordinating for the first time this year.

“Talented and Gifted education is needs based instructional programming for which a student should be identified to receive service,” explained Dotson. “Students showing a pattern of requiring instruction beyond grade level curriculum may be eligible for tag services.”

Dotson explained how students are selected for TAG, who is eligible, and the benefits of the program.

For more information on TAG go to: www.siuslaw.k12.or.us/page/talented-and-gifted-tag.

Jacob Blankenship gave his rundown of what happened during the last month at SHS. He reviewed winter sports and talked about some upcoming dances. At the end of his presentation, he gave the results of an unscientific survey he conducted amongst classmates. He asked one student from each grade what they like about SHS and what they would improve. Interestingly, three out of four of the survey respondents gave the same answer for what they would improve.

“The freshman said they like the community the school had,” said Blankenship. “He said a new school building is what he would improve. For sophomores, I asked more of a friend group that I came up to and they said they enjoyed the friends they’ve made in sports. The also said a new school building is the improvement they wish for. The junior I spoke to said teachers are nice and engaging but also said the same as the ones before as for what she would change — a new high school. The senior said teachers are nice and very engaging, but he was the outlier for the thing he would change. He wished the school had more hot water because every time he washes his hands after welding, the water is cold. Apparently, the elective wing doesn’t get hot water.”

Changes were made to the district’s policy towards pediculosis (head lice). When the original policy on pediculosis was set in 2008, students were restricted from school while in the process of trying to eliminate their lice. The district’s change in policy puts it in line with Oregon law and, according to Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak, “this policy change would allow for students that are receiving appropriate treatment to remain in school. The district nurse will see that suggested practices for general head lice control are implemented at the school level.”

The change was approved unanimously.

Towards the end of the meeting a very significant announcement was made when Grzeskowiak announced that the executive assistant to the superintendent and school board, Vonnie McClellan, will retire next Oct. 1.

Also during this meeting, the board discussed the passing of Terrance Evans. (For details on that discussion, see the story on A1).

The Siuslaw School District Board of Directors meets monthly at the district office, 2111 Oak St. The next meeting is March 8, beginning at 6 p.m. To watch the February meeting, in full, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyt4CstNFNw&t=9351s.