Gowanda welcomes new board members, policy changes

GOWANDA — At their first meeting since the successful passage of the school budget, the Gowanda Board of Education welcomed new members and looked forward to updates and changes to the elementary and middle/high school family/student handbooks.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson thanked school district residents for coming out and exercising their right to vote on May 21. “With thanks, our budget and propositions were passed by the community,” he said. “Congratulations to our board members, David Barnes, Lynn Guzzetta and Ronald Cook.”

Barnes was elected to fill the board vacancy created by Cindy Sutherland’s departure in April. Cook attended the meeting as a member of the public, as his three-year term on the board begins July 1. Guzzetta was re-elected to a three-year term on the school board.

Anderson also congratulated board member Mark Nephew, who was recently recognized by the Erie County School Boards Association for his 20 years of service as a school board member.

Following a report to the board on end-of-school-year activities, Elementary School Principal Carrie Dzierba discussed the changes made to the elementary school student/family handbook. She explained that revisions to the handbook were few, but reflected increased safety and security measures.

“Up until this year, our evacuation information actually contained a location,” she explained. “We were asked to take that out due to security.” Building security information was updated to include the new sign-in/out procedures via the Raptor program, which requires approval through an entrance monitor, photo ID and visitors badge.

Dzierba added that the transportation policy was updated to state that only one written transportation change will be allowed each year. She explained that the assumption is that students are picked up and dropped off from their home daily, unless otherwise specified. Parents are permitted to change that once a year; however, due to parent work schedules and extenuating circumstances, additional changes are occasionally approved on a case-by-case basis. Nephew requested that the handbook language be changed to “only one written transportation change will normally be allowed” to reflect this practice; Dzierba agreed.

Middle School Principal Todd Miklas explained that there were more than a dozen revisions made to the middle/high school family/student handbook. Changes include dress code clarification, changes to the process of cell phone confiscation, and the allowance of headphones or ear buds for educational purposes.

One of the most significant changes, Miklas explained, is the cyber bullying policy. “We want to be clear that if you’re saying something online, in an email, et cetera that it counts and we’re not going to tolerate that,” he said. Cook asked Miklas how reports of bullying are currently handled at the school, to which Miklas replied that all are investigated by his office. He added that the handbook now clearly states the protocol for utilizing the school website’s anonymous bullying report. However, Miklas explained, most reports come to his office from parents or teachers, who have received reports of bullying from students.

“We also want to clarify to students and parents that it’s (bullying) is not just during school hours,” Miklas stated. “There’s a misconception that ‘I can go home and say whatever I want to whoever I want on Facebook or through text’ and because it’s outside of school hours that it’s not going to impact the educational day. There could be a consequence if it causes an issue or disrupt a student at school.”

Nephew asked Miklas how this information, especially the new policies regarding cyber bullying and social media, would be released to parents. Miklas explained that handbooks go home with students at the beginning of every school year and that they are also posted on the school’s website. Parents will receive the information during the fifth grade orientation, and students in grades nine through 12 will hear about the information during a beginning-of-school-year assembly.

“Yes, but how is a parent to know that what their child does on Facebook can impact discipline at school?” Nephew asked, concerned that not all parents will receive or read the handbook.

Board President Dan York agreed that it is important for parents to be aware of the change and suggested sending reminders home periodically. Board member Dana Szalay-Delaney suggested to Miklas that the information on bullying be included at the beginning of the drug and alcohol forum, which all fifth grade, ninth grade and new students and their parents are required to attend. Miklas said that this was a good idea and agreed to update the forum accordingly.

The next meeting of the Gowanda Board of Education is Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.