● Published by J. Chambless
By John Chambless
At the start of a marathon meeting on Nov. 14, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board heard from several health and physical education teachers about a new direction that classes will be taking in the upcoming school years.
Seeking to integrate physical education with the emphasis on student wellness that is being encouraged throughout the district, the teachers said that there will be a "common language" from kindergarten through 12th grade, with an emphasis on "Be safe, be present, be open."
That means that freshmen students in high school will be taking a course called Wellness 1, as well as Team Building and Leadership Through Activity. After their freshmen year, students can move on to Wellness 2 or Sport Science. In 10th grade, Lifelong Fitness will be a class option, and in 11th and 12th grades, students can choose from a Games class, a Yoga class, and a class called Adventure-Based Mentoring Education.
Basically, the new classes will align with long-range goals that encourage lifelong fitness among students, as well as on introducing careers of the future, such as sports medicine. There is also a recommendation to make physical education classes mandatory for three years of high school, allowing seniors to opt out if they desire.
The yoga class has been widely requested by students, and the board generally seemed in favor of beginning the classes, but board president Victor Dupuis said he anticipated questions from the public regarding the spiritual element inherent in traditional yoga. The teachers, and assistant superintendent Ken Batchelor, said they can assure families that the emphasis will be on physical activity and calming techniques, with no mention of spiritual connections, in the classes.
The board also heard from Brian Hughes, the principal at the Pennock's Bridge Campus of the CCIU, about a collaborative program with Unionville High School. The sports medicine class will use Unionville's facilities, with designs created by students in the technical high school, Hughes explained. The program could launch in September, giving students another introduction to a field that is expected to be a growing career in the future.
Rick Hostetler, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, said he will ask the board to approve a bid to construct a roof over the district's salt supply. "For years, we've been covering the salt storage tanks with a tarp, and then struggling to remove it when it snows," Hostetler said. "We decided it's time to put a roof over the salt bins. The original budgeted amount was $30,000, but the low bid has come in from Curtis Cruise Construction, for $16,570."
The roof will be approximately 60 by 20 feet, with an additional wall, Hostetler said. He is asking for prompt approval so that work could begin on the roof as soon as possible.
There was a lengthy discussion about parking fees at the high school, which are currently the highest in the district, at $200 per year. Board member Carolyn Daniels asked if the fee could possibly be reduced, since she has heard from many families about the weight of the fees charged for parking and other activities at the beginning of each school year. Several ideas were proposed, including allowing students to share one parking pass among several cars. Superintendent John Sanville said he had no problem with allowing sharing, but cautioned that the yearly budget counts on the income from parking passes and participation fees, and that any change would affect budget allocations. He suggested carefully examining the issue of lowering the fee in subsequent meetings.
During board member comment, Michael Rock read from a prepared statement that seemed to take the other board members by surprise.
"I have been on the board for two and a half years, and I thought when I joined that everyone was here for one purpose -- to do what is in the best interest of our students," Rock said. "I thought that meant that each of us would park our politics and our ideologies at the door. I've tried to do that.
"I come from a family that has a long history of trade unionism. When it came time for the last contract negotiation, I basically didn't say a word. I essentially recused myself from that conversation because of my politics and ideology. I thought that's what all of us would do. Much to my chagrin, I've learned that, at least for some members of the board, that's not the norm."
Rock singled out board member Jeff Hellrung, who was sitting at the same table.
"Recently, you, Jeff, deliberately maligned, and dare I say lied about an existing school board member so you could help defeat her in the polls," Rock said, apparently referring to former board member Kathleen Do. "She was an excellent board member, and I asked myself, 'Why did you try so hard to unseat her?' The only answer I could come up with is that you wanted to tilt the board in a particular ideological direction. By so doing, you further politicized our deliberations. At the time, I said so, and you've created a lot of problems.
"More recently, you took to inserting yourself into a labor-management dispute between a minor subcontractor of the school district and its workers," Rock continued. "The question I have for you is, 'Since when have you, sir, deemed yourself the ultimate arbiter of what is good and right and just in Chester County?' You don't speak for me.
"Moreover, in emails last week, you went so far as to suggest that the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] had deliberately sabotaged the work at the technical high school as part of its labor practices with our minor subcontractor. If you have evidence of this, I think you are required to come forward with it. If not, you know, there might be alternative explanations. Maybe the workers were incompetent, maybe they made mistakes. But you didn't go there. You impugned their integrity. Once again, sir, you have polluted our deliberations with your ideological priors. ... Maybe you were just trying to tick me off. Well, you did. I guess what I would ask is that we learn to park our ideological priors at the door. They serve no useful purpose here, other than to be destructive.
"I'm not going to be fooled again, sir. I will no longer sit quiet when any member of this board uses his or her position for his or her own ideological priors," Rock concluded.
Given a chance to respond, Hellrung said, "I agree with Dr. Rock that we should all park politics and ideology at the door. I would be glad to talk with him in private about any of his concerns, or with any of our board members. I would be surprised if those sentiments were shared by others. I'd be happy to speak with anyone about the complaint that's been filed against the CCIU from the IBEW, regarding the project at the technical college high school in Phoenixville, insofar as I can, because it is an ongoing legal issue."
During public comment early in the meeting, a parent addressed the board about several incidents nationwide following the election of Donald Trump, and anti-minority sentiments expressed by Trump supporters. She did not say that such incidents had occurred in the school district, but cautioned that the national mood might foster discrimination here. There was a lengthy discussion of the issues raised, and late in the meeting, Sanville returned to the subject, saying, "We have had a school climate survey done, and at that time, one area where scores were very good was recognizing diversity and differences. What that tells us is that it doesn't mitigate the world climate after a tortuous presidential campaign. What it does say is that our students feel that our community respects diversity. If you disaggregate the survey results by minority group, they also feel that way. That's a positive place for us to be as a community."
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.