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At school board meeting, a debate on counseling

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | September 29, 2021 7:50 AM

A Columbia Falls school board member and a couple of parents weren’t happy about school counseling classes some students are taking, but other school board members pushed back on the notion that schools shouldn’t counsel students.

The issue arose at a board meeting earlier this month over a half-hour junior high class on social and emotional learning, that’s taught once a week.

Boardmember Wayne Jacobsmeyer said he read the curriculum and objected to the class, claiming it was too progressive. But principal Ted Miller said the point of the class was to get kids talking together about character traits, such as empathy toward one another and respect for each other and tolerance, among other things.

During the discussion, Ruder Elementary principal Brenda Kreuger noted that the school has been using similar classes for years to teach students how to regulate behavior at school. She noted they use a color system — yellow, for example, means a student needs a break.

“I’m in the yellow zone right now,” Jacobsmeyer said. “This is ridiculous.”

A couple of parents also claimed students shouldn’t be counseled at school at all. That should be up to parents.

But boardmember Keri Hill noted that in the high school alone, there’s 40 students who are considered homeless.

“There’s more than just school these kids need,” she said.

She urged some of the parents who were critical of the district to help, rather than simply criticize.

“We need substitutes, we need para (educators),” she said. “There are so many ways where you can be helping.”

Jacobsmeyer tried to keep the discussion going, but other boardmembers said it was neither the time or the place, since the matter wasn’t on the agenda.

They urged him to meet with Miller directly and get a better sense of the program on his own time.

Jacobsmeyer is new to the board, having been elected last spring.

Later in the meeting, longtime boardmember Larry Wilson also spoke to the matter of counseling. He said at one time, students left the farm for a few hours, went to school and then came back home.

“Sorry folks, those days are gone forever,” he said.

It’s obviously not like that today. With 20 years on the discipline committee and years more as a teacher he’s seen a lot of cases in his days — cases where the committee had to decide whether or not to expel a student. Some of them very sad.

“I’ve had to personally wrestle a high school student who sniffed gas,” he said.

He urged the crowd and others to get more involved in schools and to see what’s really going on and some of the problems students and educators face today.

Superintendent Dave Wick had similar sentiments. He noted with the pandemic, it is a trying time at schools. But schools are trying to do their best.

“People aren’t here with an agenda,” he said.

He said he was proud of his teachers and the job they were doing.

“Let’s agree to work together … give us a chance and listen to what we have to say,” Wick implored.