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Board reviews service learning curriculum (02/23/2006)
By Cynthya Porter
The District 861 school board reviewed curriculum policies last week after members said parents approached them with concerns about a recent class project.

According to Curriculum Director Sue Roehrich, the project in question was undertaken by a service learning class at the high school to try to restore Kurt Kiekbusch to the role of dean at the high school.

Kiekbusch was reassigned to the Winona Middle School after the board restored the high school position to be administrative, a license Kiekbusch does not carry.

Board members asked Roehrich to review the policies for curriculum after students from the class engaged in activities like selling T-shirts, writing letters to the editor and building a float for the Winterfest parade.

Joan Heydt-Nelson, who teaches the class, said that the students selected the project with no input from her, and that their activities were all performed under the umbrella of activism for the project.

According to Roehrich, some parents and students said they were uncomfortable with the project, and although students had the option of not participating in it the perceived pressure put onto them to do so was not appropriate for the learning environment.

For district officials, the primary concern was what the policy is for student projects that involve staff members, and how the situation could have been worse if it was slightly different.

What if, board members asked, the students had wanted Kiekbusch fired instead of reinstated to a job?

"Other districts have parameters that say projects not involve district staff," Roehrich told the board.

Heydt-Nelson said students have engaged in other projects that benefitted staff, such as fund-raisers to cope with illness, and regulating them away from those activities could be frustrating to students.

But board member Natalie Siderius said there is a difference between a fund-raising project and the curriculum of a class intent on challenging a staffing decision.

Also, board member Sue Brown questioned the policies that allow students to sell things in the high school concourse, and how much administrative oversight goes into decisions like those made by Heydt-Nelson's class.

"This project did not go on without consulting the administration," Heydt-Nelson said, although she said the T-shirt project was undertaken by the class alone without her participation.

For future situations, Roehrich made several recommendations, including that the board review the parameters that govern student activism under the umbrella of a class curriculum, especially when that activism deals with district staff.

"Although students do not lose their constitutional rights at the school house door," Roehrich wrote in her recommendation, "those rights are balanced with responsibility. Educators should continue to be cognizant of their personal and professional influence on students. Educators should continue to balance encouraging students to become active citizens in the democratic process with responsible behavior within the school community. Having educators consult with principals about projects involving controversial topics or issues prior to the approval of such projects should be encouraged." 


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