It's been a long, tedious and sometimes tiresome process, but it appears that the Tehachapi Unified School District has completed its controversial Safe and Inclusive Schools Curriculum.
What began over two years ago under the federally mandated "Resolution Agreement" between the district and the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice after the suicide of a gay student, Seth Walsh, the district's 6th through 12th grade Safe and Inclusive Schools Curriculum is headed to the Board of Trustees on Jan. 29 for final approval.
After several meetings for parents organized by Superintendent of Schools Lisa Gilbert, the original lessons that came under fire by parents were revised, and at its meeting on Jan. 14, the District Curriculum Committee, which originally drafted the lessons, finalized all of the recommendations and additional improvements suggested by the Parent Committee.
The biggest changes parents asked for was softening the curriculum's language, while re-focusing the lessons on harassment and discrimination in general, with sex and gender being just a part of it, Gilbert told the board at its meeting last Tuesday night.
Once the board acts on the curriculum, parents will again be given an opportunity to review the revised curriculum, which will be available at every school site as well as the district office, she said.
In addition to having the curriculum available at each school, the district will also hold a parent information tonight at 6 p.m. in the Tehachapi High School cafeteria.
"Parents are welcome to come and get an overview of the curriculum," Gilbert said. "It is a good opportunity for them to ask questions and voice concerns that they have about the revised lessons."
The binders containing the curriculum will also be available for review one half hour prior to the meeting.
District responds to recent shootings
Besides ensuring that students are provided a safer learning environment through the new curriculum, the district has recently formed a committee of school and community public safety experts, including local law enforcement and fire personal, to evaluate each of the district's six public schools for safety and vulnerability.
"As we all know, the tragedies that occurred in Connecticut and most recently at Taft High School involving schools shootings, has brought to light the important conversations we should be having about the commitment of safety at our schools," Gilbert reported to the board at its meeting last week. "This committee has been assembled to address those areas of concern."
Assembled just two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the committee has met twice, and will tour each school site, talking with administrators and addressing issues concerning security staffing and things like opening day procedures.
New volunteer procedures
The recent rash of threats to students on campuses nationwide has also prompted the district to beef up the way it handles its 350 district volunteers.
Recent updates include more intensive training and fingerprinting of volunteers who are responsible for chaperoning students, as well as a centralized volunteer database that has taken the place of the old site-specific volunteer record keeping.
"No system is failsafe," Gilbert cautioned. "And we encourage any feedback so that we can do the things necessary to clean up how we are handling our volunteers."
Handling known threats
With heightened awareness comes fear and sometimes rumors that can spread rapidly through social media platforms.
Recently, a report circulated on Facebook that a student at Jacobsen Middle School was allowed to return to school after compiling a so-called "hit list" targeting fellow classmates.
While Gilbert did recall an incident from last year, she could not provide details, nor could she share the discipline of a particular student,
She did, however, address the district's procedures regarding those types of threats.
"When a student threatens to harm another child, the school takes immediate action," she said. "When we do have those types of instances, we notify anyone on a "list" if we think it is a serious threat. We also work with both the student and parent after."
Current education code permits school officials to discipline any student, but when necessary law enforcement may be brought in.
Gilbert said discipline is dependent on grade level and age, previous issues and content of the threat, and may result in suspension and even expulsion, especially if the offending student has received prior discipline for other offenses or if their presence causes a continuing danger to the physical safety to another child or to school employees.
However, even an expelled student can be readmitted to a district program if they have satisfactorily fulfilled the terms of the rehabilitation prescribed by the district.