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Members of the Forest Lake Area High School’s Students Against Destructive Decisions group Zoey Braaten and Jack Ihlenfeldt gave a presentation about the mock car crash, which happened in the fall, to the school board at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 6. The student presentation is a part of the school boards efforts to increase student involvement at that level. 

Busing shortage levels out a week after break

The Forest Lake Area School Board rejected the proposed policy that would allow high school student representatives onto the board in a 4-3 vote on Thursday, Jan. 6. The school board broached the topic of possibly offering a student a school board position this past summer as a way to increase student involvement with the board. 

“We’ve had a lot of conversations on ways to engage students more with school board activity,” Superintendent Steve Massey said when he introduced the policy. 

In June, the board decided to allow students to apply to participate on committees as a way to increase student involvement. Some board members wanted to go another step forward and create a student school board position and instructed the policy committee to draft a proposal for how that role could function. 

Throughout this school year, the policy committee drafted the Student School Board Representative policy, which was presented to the school board for approval during its first meeting in January. Board members Kate Luthner, Alex Keto and Jill Landstrom approved the proposal while board members Gail Theisen, Julie Corcoran, Jeff Peterson and Rob Rapheal rejected the policy. 

The members who supported the policy liked the idea of furthering student engagement by including students in the school board process.

The dissenting members thought students could be more influential in different roles and didn’t want to subject students to the political nature of the school board. 

Landstrom was excited to see the policy come together and thought it would be a great step moving forward to increase student involvement.

“I am happy this came together very quickly. I think it’s very well written and it allows for some flexibility, but it’s a great starting point,” Landstrom said. 

Luthner similarly supported the policy as a way of furthering communication with the student body.

“In general, I think that it’s important that we have many voices at the table, and especially the high school where they can really participate,” Luthner said. 

Luthner explained her experiences having community members voice their concerns or questions to her, and she saw the student position on the school board as a way to extend that same connection to high schoolers. 

“I want that opportunity extended to the people who are between 15 and 18,” Luthner said.

Keto thought adding this policy would set them on the right path, pointing out that already having student involvement on the committees is an asset.

“It’s wonderful having them on the committees, and I think they add value, and I think this policy is at least a great start,” Keto said.

Theisen agreed that it is important that students are a part of the board, but that involvement would be more valuable at the committee level. 

“I feel that the best involvement for our students is in our committee work. I work side by side with high school students on those committees, and I think it’s an excellent learning experience,” Theisen said, adding the timing wasn’t right for this additional policy. 

The policy would not have required the board to add a student to the board following its approval; it would have set up the infrastructure for how a student representative would function on it whenever the board chose to implement it. 

“I want to do what’s best for the students in our district. … and I just don’t know if we’re ready for this,” Theisen said. 

Julie Corcoran echoed that thought that the timing to approve this policy and add a student wasn’t right. 

“My only point is with everything going on, it’s a big change to our board, and I don’t think the timing is quite right,” she said, adding she may not oppose it further down the road. 

Peterson and Rapheal were more firm in their stance against the policy because of the political nature of the school board. 

“As I look over the last two years and I see 72 school board members, adults, resign from their position because of the way they’ve been treated by the public. … I would not want to subject a high schooler to many of the things that I’ve endured as a board member,” Peterson said.  

Rapheal worried about the complexity of politics and differing community opinions and concluded having a student school board member wouldn’t add more than what they are currently doing. 

“I don’t think it would give us anything additional to having the students report, which I really like because I think it’s really important that we hear the student perspectives,” Raphael said. 

Busing update

After the shift to distance learning during the week leading up to winter break due to bus driver shortages, the Forest Lake Area School district returned to in-person classes on Tuesday, Jan. 4. 

“We’re extremely excited, first of all, to be back in school after winter break. The time off going into break was a real challenge for us with our transportation,” superintendent Steve Massey said. 

In an effort to return to in-person teaching after break, each school in the district was asked to establish drop-off and pick-up plans for parents to safely drive their students to school if their bus route is canceled. 

Prior to winter break, the school district was averaging 10 bus route cancellations each day and projected double that for the week before break. Right now, the district is averaging five to six route cancellations a day, which is due to the routes that have been unfilled all year. Although, there were eight canceled routes on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

“The good news again is, we’re not canceling nearly the number of routes that we were going into break. All of our schools have built very effective and thorough drop-off and pick-up plans for the number of parents that are impacted by canceled routes,” Massey said.  

The district is currently training drivers to work in the school district to help this deficit, but the training still takes around seven weeks to complete. 

“These folks don’t walk in one day and start driving the next day. They’re well-prepared and well-trained when they do become drivers,” Massey said. 

Theisen added she read something about the Federal Department of Transportation changing a part of testing procedures to shorten the training time. 

Massey said, “to shorten that training period would be very helpful,” to get their bus driver trainees in the field to alleviate their bus driver shortage. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Department of Transportation permitted states to waive a portion of the vehicle inspection training in school bus driver training programs to shorten it. The waiver was approved on Monday, Jan. 3, and is in effect until March 31. 

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