Northampton Press

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Board addresses news source concerns

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

Solicitor responds to question on district’s transgender bathroom policy

Concerns about news sources for students and transgender bathroom use in the district were brought before the Northampton Area School District Board of Education at its Sept. 9 meeting.

“Students are being forced to watch CNN,” Michael Meyers, of Walnutport, claimed.

“It was brought to my attention that you’re promoting a particular news station,” Jerry Pritchard, of Lehigh Township, said. “Why don’t you let the TV go on at home, not in the school district?”

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik responded that the district is not showing CNN.

“We’re preparing for state-mandated civics tests,” Kovalchik said.

In a six-day cycle, students view a variety of televised news sources, including CNN10, a 10-minute news segment, according to Kovalchik.

The CNN10 website describes the segment as “an on-demand digital news show ideal for the classroom” and “digestible and engaging news coverage for kids in 10 minutes.” Recent subjects included India’s unmanned moon lander mission and Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas.

“I think kids and people should be exposed to as many views as possible,” Kovalchik said. “We’re exposing the kids to different views and topics.”

After the school board meeting concluded, Kovalchik said the district began showing news segments to students about a year ago. Among the TV news sources in the NASD six-day cycle is FOX Teen, he noted.

In 2018, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law, legislation requiring public school students to take a civics test between seventh and 12th grades. The requirement goes into effect in the 2020-21 school year. The legislation allows a school district to develop its own civics test or use one created by the United States federal government for citizenship.

Another matter brought before the board was the policy of transgender bathrooms.

“What is our policy on bathrooms?” Paul Nikisher, of Lehigh Township, asked.

Kovalchik responded that each case is addressed individually. He noted the schools still have separate boys and girls bathrooms.

“Transgender has been a topic that’s addressed in the courts,” said Atty. C. Steven Miller, referring to a Boyertown case that upheld the school district’s policy regarding a transgender person’s use of the bathroom.

“A transgender person is to be treated as any other person. So far, we’ve been able to accommodate everyone,” Miller noted.

“And the students probably handle it better than the adults,” he added.

“I don’t want boys in there with my granddaughter,” Nikisher said.

“If your grandchildren have a problem, they need to talk with the administration,” Miller said.

In other matters at the Sept. 9 meeting, school directors voted 7-0, with one director voting by phone, and two directors absent, at the recommendation of the administration to approve:

• Jeffrey Erschen, study hall instructional assistant, Northampton Area High School, effective retroactive to Sept. 3, at $15.52 per hour, with benefits

• Shea Killeen, Tuesday through Saturday custodian, Moore Elementary School, effective Sept. 24, at $20.43 per hour, with benefits

• Mandatory attendance of NASD Police Officer Michael Renner at 2019 basic school resource officer training course, Mechanicsburg, Sept. 29-Oct. 4, at a cost of approximately $1,184.73, included in the 2019-20 district security budget

• Letter of agreement between NASD and Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 to provide remedial instruction in reading and math to nonproficient students at a cost of $27,554, for instruction; $278, for parent involvement programming and Colonial IU20 administrative service fee of 3 percent of the total. The costs are covered in the 2019-20 Title I grant.

“Thirty-five percent of our students are economically disadvantaged,” Dr. Kathleen E. Ott, NASD director of data, grants and special programs, said after the meeting.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged students is higher than 35 percent at George Wolf Elementary and Col. John Siegfried Elementary School, which qualify for the Title 1 funding, Ott said. Parochial school students qualify as well.

Also approved 7-0 at the Sept. 9 meeting for the 2019-20 school year were a revised master district volunteer list; additions and deletions to the substitute listing; extracurricular and supplemental positions; traffic duty monitors and hourly rates, effective retroactive to Aug. 26; individuals to oversee intramural programs and the weight room, effective Aug. 1; mentor-inductee list, including the mentors and stipend payment; addenda to the elementary school handbooks; and the updated NASD student code of conduct for handbooks.

The board accepted with appreciation a donation of school supplies from Zion Stone United Church of Christ, Kreidersville, valued at approximately $500 for students with identified needs.

The NASD school board’s next scheduled meeting is 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23, in the NAHS cafeteria, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.