Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Armed staff not considered for Ely schools

Positive relationships emphasized between students and teachers

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/28/18

ELY – There are no plans to push for pistol-packing principals on the Ely school campus.

In light of the Florida school shooting and the ongoing national debate on school safety, including …

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Armed staff not considered for Ely schools

Positive relationships emphasized between students and teachers


ELY – There are no plans to push for pistol-packing principals on the Ely school campus.

In light of the Florida school shooting and the ongoing national debate on school safety, including arming teachers with guns in the classroom, Ely school board members were reminded this week that policies are in place to keep students safe while at school.

Following a study session and special meeting Monday night, ISD 696 leaders discussed the school violence issue as it relates to the Ely community.

“Your policies as they relate to school safety have all been designed using the model from Homeland Security (Agency),” said Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson. “The policies may be a little bit more procedural than I prefer, but that happens. MSBA (Minnesota School Board Association) recommends that, and that predates me.”

There is not one month in a year that doesn’t go by without some aspect of school safety being discussed in Ely schools, he said. “Right now, we are trying to make some of those (safety) procedures more user-friendly and are copying some policies that other school districts have used.”

Abrahamson explained that school safety procedures call for three initial reactions: evacuate, shelter in place, or shelter in a different school location. “We talk about how and who does what,” he said.

“We hear a lot about prevention from the standpoint of arming teachers,” he said. “Personally, I would hope never it never goes there. Number two is raising the age of (gun) purchases. That’s fine, but if somebody wants something, they’re going to get it.”

Abrahamson said he believes the best prevention available in the Ely School District is creating healthy relationships with the students. “That is what I emphasize, whether we are talking about school safety or academics and student achievement. So much of this comes down to relationships,” he said. “There is nothing that is going to be 100-percent effective. We do the best we can. We try to be vigilant.”

He referenced the “see something, say something” mantra that seems to be an effective policy in terms of school safety. “That is not just about school safety. That is about bullying and all kinds of things. I think we have to make it okay that if you see something, then say something, whether you are a student, staff, parent, or general public.”

He said that Ely teachers have expressed concerns about safety. “They have expressed those concerns to our principals and it has come to the administration. We will attempt to address those concerns in the best way possible without showing any of our cards.”

School Board member Heidi Mann praised the Ely Community Resource in helping to build strong relationships with students. “We are so lucky to have ECR in our school,” she said. She noted that she was approached by a community member last weekend who wanted assurance that teachers feel comfortable with discussing potential problems and concerns.

Megan Anderson, 6-12 principal, said teachers know the procedures to address issues. “We also review safety procedures, and address any issues, and as far as the students are concerned, that’s what we are here for,” she said.

School board chair Ray Marsnik related an incident in Minnesota where a police officer was in a third-grade class and a student was able to pull the trigger of his holstered handgun. Can you imagine if teachers had to carry a gun?” he asked. “They are busy enough teaching. It is a dangerous situation all around.”

Abrahamson highlighted the increased sensitivity to the issue. “People are searching for solutions, and sometimes we go to danger-type of reactions. That is not something that I would like to see happen. We should look at what is best for Ely schools, There is no one size that fits all,” he said.

Mann asked Abrahamson if he heard of anything happening in Ely concerning the national grass roots school walk-out activity planned for March 14.

“I would rather not discuss that right now,” he said.

Other topics

School Board members discussed a wide-variety of issues at their monthly study session Monday night.

The long-range strategic plan goals are set to be rolled out and Abrahamson reported that committees are being established.

“The principals are basically in charge of the two curriculum and course goals,” he said. “Those committees may be somewhat fluid but the principals will be leading them.”

Facilities planning will entail a committee of as many as 15 to 18 members, he said. “When you think about stakeholder involvement, along with principals, teachers, staff, it may be that big,” he said. “We will have an initial meeting within a month or so.”

The facilities maintenance goal committee will involve more of maintenance staff and administration. “We want to take an audit of square footage and personnel, and annual systems checks,” he said. “We have standards that we work toward that are in place,” he said.

The facility upgrade staff survey was discussed. Mann noted that many respondents are in favor of adding another gymnasium and enclosed courtyard with upgraded cafeteria, but noted many references to ongoing facility issues.

“We have everything from painting that needs to done, to a non-functioning toilet,” she said. “How do we decide where to put our focus, and is it possible to take care of these smaller items at the same time as we talk about construction projects?”

Teachers and staff have emphasized the need for continuing upkeep in the facility. “That helps them take more pride in our facility and school,” she said.

Abrahamson noted that the newly-implemented long-term facilities maintenance plan will address those types of ongoing concerns.

School board member Rochelle Sjoberg said she would like to see a progress tracking system put in place to audit the facility maintenance activities.

The Early Childhood Family Education program in Ely schools looks poised to grow based on the proposal introduced to school board members last month.

The current ECFE classes at Ely total 1.5 hours per class over 20 weeks. School readiness classes are held two days per week at three hours per class for 22 weeks. Special events add a total of 16 hours and additional teaching hours total about 54 more hours.

Currently, the total cost of the ECFE programs in Ely is just over $32,000. That funding comes out of the Community Education fund in the school district’s budget.

Government-funded programs are not available to the Ely School District because the minimum number of hours of education are not being reached.

The additional cost to expanding the ECFE program is about $16,000 per school year, or a total of $48,382 per year. A second ECFE expansion option, at an additional cost of about $3,260 per year appears to be favored by school board members.

Abrahamson will have more information for school board members to discuss and possibly act on for the March 12 regular meeting.

Board members reported on the sessions they attended at the recent Minnesota School Board Association Leadership conference.

A revised fiscal year 2018 budget was discussed. General Fund expenditures increased more than $71,000 due to revisions in the approved union contracts, health insurance premiums and special education staff. Capital Fund expenditure revisions include the revised playground fund balance and other capital expense adjustments. The Food Service and Community Education funds also show slight increases.

The revised budget was approved at a special meeting following the study session.


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