Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Press photo by Chris HaringSupervisor of Campus Operations John McCabe (standing) addresses the Board regarding the motion to purchase two new school buses for the district. Press photo by Chris HaringSupervisor of Campus Operations John McCabe (standing) addresses the Board regarding the motion to purchase two new school buses for the district.

Bullying addressed, expenses OK’d

Monday, January 27, 2020 by Chris Haring Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The first Saucon Valley School Board meeting of the new year continued in much the same vein as those held in the last few months of 2019, with yet more discussion related to the district’s much-publicized battle with its student bullying and harassment issues. The Board also voted unanimously twice to approve spending, including two new school buses at over $50,000 per bus, as well as a $3,000 increase in annual salary for Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler.

Longtime district resident and parent Jennifer Schmell gave an impassioned speech criticizing the district’s response to the ongoing bullying issues plaguing the schools over the last several years, which have become a renewed topic in local news again for the 2019-2020 school year. “I’m anxious to get my son out of town. He’s a really good kid and I intend to keep it that way. The free-for-all nature of kids running around this town is bound to negatively impact him at some point,” she said. She then described some of the experiences that her son, an elementary-age student, has relayed to her.

“What is most troubling to me is… this district has refused to hire a resource officer to proactively protect our children” Schmell continued. “It’s time to buck up, review the budget, and reallocate resources to hire a resource officer.” She suggested that the district has saved a considerable amount of money recently by choosing to leave positions vacant when employees have departed, and suggested using a portion of those savings to bring an officer (or officers) into the schools to establish a deterring presence visible to students. The Board did not immediately respond to her suggestions and criticism during the meeting, however several members did request to meet with her immediately following the meeting.

Bullying would come up again towards the end of the meeting. Board Member Michael Karabin questioned whether or not the district administration would be willing and/or able to provide reports and documentation to say “how (they’re) addressing these problems and (to) have answers…” regarding what actions the district has taken and their outcomes in response. Dr. Butler outlined three acts in particular, including speaking to administration about establishing a Bullying Procedure, initiating anti-harassment and discrimination training for staff members and exploring the formation of a group of parents to join in a community-led partnership. He also indicated that he’d be “happy” to offer a public report regarding these initiatives to the board.

In addition to Schmell, district resident and parent Jason Ashraf presented his proposal for the district’s adoption of a Spanish Immersion Program. He explained that Southern Lehigh, a neighboring district, was the first Pennsylvania district to offer this program to students in 1989. He presented statistics from a survey of Southern Lehigh’s program indicating that 100% of families who responded with students in grades 9-12 would recommend it. The Board’s response was somewhat tepid, with Dr. Butler stating that he did have a conversation with Southern Lehigh administrators regarding the program roughly one year ago.

The next meeting will be held Jan. 28.