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New School Safety Standard Passed

By Ann Needle

As the country made some final decisions at the polls last night, the Nashoba School Committee took votes on some substantial issues of its own.

Committee Vice Chair Maureen Busch of Stow launched the meeting with a moment of silence for Stow’s Leah Tepper, 19, a graduate of Nashoba Regional High School, who passed away November 1 (see related story on homepage). Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton was absent, along with Stow Reps. Lynn Colletti and Jeff Odell.

In its first vote of the evening, the Committee approved an amendment to Nashoba’s middle and high school student handbooks, requiring students charged with a criminal weapons offenses to be searched daily. Drafted by the School Committee’s Policy Sub Committee, the language added to the handbooks’ sections on “Civil and Criminal Offenses” requires students charged with felonies involving weapons to have daily searches upon entering school each day added to their safety plans, if the principal does not recommend suspension or expulsion.

The change came about after several NRHS parents complained that Stow student Zachary Gross has been attending classes while awaiting trial on charges that include weapons possession and attempted kidnapping. Two other Stow students allegedly involved in the crime (which took place in Sudbury in July) also are believed to be attending classes at NRHS.

In fielding parents’ complaints on not suspending the students, both Superintendent Michael Wood and NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Graham argued that the students did not have what is legally termed a “substantial detrimental effect” on the staff and other students.

The law puts the decision to suspend a student charged with a felony in the principal’s hands. However, in its written rationale in adding to the policy on handling students charged with a crime, the Sub Committee stated, “As an extra safety measure in the event that expulsion is not being recommended, a daily search upon entry of the building is being called for. This helps to provide the community a level of support and understanding of how the student body remains safe.”

“I don’t recommend it for a variety of reasons,” argued Superintendent Michael Wood. “I don’t think we have a safety issue at the high school — I think we’re reacting to an unfortunate situation. Our legal counsel does not agree with it.”

Maureen Busch disagreed, noting, “There’s that difficulty of not wanting to focus so intently on a particular situation, but we don’t have a lot of history to go on, because this is so out of the ordinary.”

The Committee voted in favor of the addition 4-1, with Lancaster Rep. Kathy Owen the only dissenting vote.

During Citizens’ Comments at the end of the meeting, as one of three Stow residents in the audience, Therese Magnussen thanked the Committee. “It does mean something to us. It’s not just our kids we’re concerned about, but the staff and the teachers. The kids have a right to have a safe facility,” she said.

+$55,000 Less than Expected in Borrowing Costs
In borrowing to finance the renovation of the athletic complex at NRHS, the Committee voted unanimously to accept the bid on that bond’s $2,210,000 cost over 15 years, at an interest rate of 1.656%. Assistant Superintendent George King pointed out this is substantially lower than expected. In his memo to the Committee on the financing, King said that with the costs coming in at $55,000 less than originally estimated, the savings will pay the issuance costs for the bond.

Looking at the district’s elementary and middle school students, members of Nashoba’s Comprehensive Reporting Committee outlined the progress so far in rolling out new report cards. While the format of this comprehensive report card will vary between different grade groups, the CRC has stressed it is designed both to provide traditional grades and to compare student performance against state standards in academics, work habits, and social skills.

Joel Bates, principal of Bolton’ s Florence Sawyer School, talked about debuting the permanent first and second grade report cards this year, after last year’s pilot. Laura Friend (assistant principal at Lancaster’s Mary Rowlandson Elementary School) said that survey results from the parents of these students helped form the final report card format, implemented in September. She added that these results also helped shape the pilot card for grades 3 through 5 for this year.

Rowlandson Principal Sean O’Shea said that a guide to any updates to the first through fifth grade cards should be sent home to parents with December report cards.

As for the middle school grades, O’Shea said the CRC currently is working on a pilot card for next school year.