Steamboat School Board weighs recommendations from culture and climate task force
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School Board discussed recommendations Wednesday from the district’s culture and climate task force, which overhauled many Title IX policies in accordance with new federal guidelines and made recommendations to better the culture and climate in schools.
The Title IX Policies, Procedures and Information and School Culture and Climate Task Force was created in response to the spring 2020 investigation by Jane Quimby into the culture at Steamboat Springs High School and alleged mishandling of sexual harassment complaints.
The task force is composed of parents, students, school officials and community members and seeks to support a culture of respect, trust, safety and dignity for everyone in school.
District Superintendent Brad Meeks said the top priorities for the task force were to get district Title IX policies and procedures in line with new federal standards and to train staff on new protocols. The school board outlined guidance about where they would like more information about various recommendations or the timetables of them from the task force and plans to discuss the recommendations further in January.
The task force consisted of three subcommittees, each making recommendations. One of the subcommittees specifically looked into the district’s sexual harassment, equal employment and student policies, updating them to reflect federal Title IX changes as well as to incorporate Quimby’s recommendations.
The district conducted extensive training to get staff up to speed on the new policies, which included training about staff’s responsibility as a mandatory reporter. Key staff also got additional Title IX and civil rights training.
“I think it is important that the district has made this a priority and that we are getting the proper training to handle these sensitive reports,” said Anne-Marie Williams, director of exceptional student services for the district.
The district is already doing some of the task forces recommendations, including using restorative processes to address and repair harm and trying to increase transparency and build trust in the reporting systems in place. They are also continuing to support student clubs or groups that strengthen the climate and culture in the high school.
One recommendation from the task force was to bring on an ombudsman for the district who would be a final neutral arbiter if all other remedies had been used. This person would likely be a local attorney and be hired on a per case basis.
Members of the board questioned whether this position would fill a need the process is currently lacking or add another step to an already exhaustive process.
The district already has been using Carolyn Lauren, an independent consultant, on Title IX policies and procedures and on cases involving students and employees. Lauren is working to formalize the districts investigative procedures as well as acting as an investigator when necessary.
While for Title IX matters another outside person seemed redundant, some board members felt that they may need someone in this role to deal with non-Title IX cases. They said this position should be a last resort measure and not one that is often utilized.
“If we are doing it in the spirit of a safety net, if for some reason, whatever that is, that position is warranted and that reason is not just dissatisfaction with the progression along the way, then a I support that,” said Chresta Brinkman, a member of the board.
Another recommendation was to create various programs within the district to support the climate and culture of the schools. This would include teaching students about Title IX and sexual misconduct policies and training them to be another potential reporting avenue for sexual assault incidents.
The board was largely supportive of investing in such programs, but also felt they need to assess the programs they currently have in place in schools. Shelby DeWolfe, task force member and counselor at Soda Creek Elementary School, said some of these programs likely would not work as well in the current format of hybrid learning and could be best utilized if implemented when students where back in school full time.
One of the programs would bring in the group Cultures of Dignity, which focuses on working with parents, students and teachers to deal with social challenges in school.
Lara Craig, school board member, expressed frustration with the lack of connection between programs at different schools, saying they could be more effective if programs continued as students advanced through the various schools.
DeWolfe said it might not be the right time to evaluate all the programs the school has because many of them are not happening in the normal form currently. She said it might be appropriate to look more longterm with these programs, setting the groundwork now to roll out the program in the future.
Katy Lee, vice president of the board, said bringing in an outside group like Cultures of Dignity could help identify places to address climate and culture in schools where they may not be already. But she said it would be more beneficial if this could be done when school is more normal. Lee also said it needs to be an ongoing conversation with students.
“We shouldn’t lose track of having the kids talk about what respect and dignity is because, even though those interactions are not happening at school, they are happening outside of school,” Lee said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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