Steamboat High School’s culture and climate task force expanding to permanent, districtwide committee

The Steamboat Springs School District Culture and Climate Task Force is looking for more people to serve as it transitions from a temporary task force to a permanent committee.

Born out of recommendations after a January 2020 investigation into alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment by Steamboat Springs High School administration, the task force has been operating for about 20 months and is looking to take the next step.

“Every year, in some way, the climate and culture changes in a school because one group of students cycles out and another group cycles in,” said Lisel Petis, former executive director of Advocates of Routt County and a community member on the task force. “We actually chatted from the first day how important it was to have the entire district involved.”

In August, the task force presented five goals to the Steamboat Springs Board of Education, with the first being to restructure into a districtwide standing committee that includes students, staff, parents and other community members with no direct connection to the district.

The group aims to have 20 members, with adult positions lasting two years and student positions lasting one year and the option to participate for a second.

“You can’t be working on climate and culture just all of a sudden when kids turn 13,” Petis said. “They bring that climate and culture from their previous experience and previous schools with them.”

Other goals for the committee include conducting an environmental scan of the culture and climate across the district during this school year, adding a high school course-focused healthy relationships, help launch a peer program at the high school and consider adding an amnesty clause to remove barriers to reporting sexual and other misconduct in the school.

“Really what we have done to date is we’ve gotten the approval to move ahead on several projects that are coming up this year, are approved to move forward on that, I think, are where we’re really going to have our impact,” said Jammie Sabin, a member of the task force who has had three daughters in the district.

Sabin said he was particularly excited about the peer program, where students will work together to discuss issues ranging from bullying to sexual harassment and assault.

The environmental scan will be done routinely, conducted by a third party and include interviews with students and staff, as well as surveys, Sabin said.

“Really gathering actual qualitative and quantitative data to measure what’s going well and what’s not,” said Meghan Hanson-Peters, a social studies teacher in the district and member of the task force.

Sabin said the goal of the scan is “getting a feel for what the concerns of the kids are at the moment so that we can try to put systems in place to help them.”

Not everyone believes the task force has done enough, fast enough in response to the investigation, and Sabin said when he joined he wanted to see action right away.

“I see having spent the time on it, if you’re going to try and not put a Band-Aid on something but actually try to really make substantive changes. It takes a lot of planning, it takes a lot of coordination,” Sabin said. “Now, we’re on the cusp of starting to enact some real changes in the coming year, and that’s what I’m excited about.”

Some students are planning a protest during parent-teacher conferences Thursday, saying they don’t believe enough has been done to address the issue.

“Super proud to hear that they’re doing it; I’m a huge fan of people empowering their own voices,” Petis said. “But really, I would love to see them get involved in the committee. That’s where they could make a lot of change.”

Petis said the school board and district administration have been very committed to the task force’s work, and she feels that if a time comes when the district needs to pay a person to manage this, the board would support it.

“I’m hoping that that can be a pretty easy ask,” Petis said. “Just to have the buy-in for (the environmental scan) means that the district is open. They’re not just going to be hiding these things and that they are open to making sure that students are being taken care of.”

Hanson-Peters said they are looking for people to join the committee who represent different facets of the community, are open-minded and who support building a culture and climate of respect, trust and safety in the district.

“Somebody who can make the time commitment, who will speak up in meetings, and then I think we’re certainly looking for diverse perspectives,” Petis said about who they are looking for on the committee, “… so that when we’re looking at solutions, it’s not just one voice saying it.”

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