The Northampton School Board met Monday, August 8 to discuss communications, livestreaming, the upcoming Act 34 Hearing, transgender students participating in sports, and mental health services for students.
After a presentation on the 2023-2029 Comprehensive Plan, NASD Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik began a discussion on communications throughout the district and provided two options for board members to consider: hiring a Community Relations Coordinator or allow the board to solicit bids for a communication company. Kovalchik asked the board for direction.
Board members Robert Mentzell and Doug Vaughn expressed they do not feel NASD needs either option.
Board Member Kim Bretzik offered that she believes the district does not need formal positions for communications, but that the board could do better with communicating things to the public. Bretzik suggested that communications could be melded into an existing committee.
Board President James Chuss provided an alternative suggestion for a part-time hire that would handle public communication because it is time consuming for Superintendent Kovalchik.
No decision was made.
Next, Kovalchik provided five streaming options to move forward with creating a new policy.
The majority of board members were in favor of option 3, having recorded video and audio available on the district website within 24 hours of each meeting.
The board will move forward with having the Policy Committee draft a new policy. However, recorded meetings will not appear on the district website for two or three months. Kovalchik assured residents that the policy will be implemented before Christmastime.
In other business, Kovalchik brought up the Act 34 Hearing that the district be holding, which is required to be held by Pa. law when districts are in the process of looking at building a new building so districts cannot build a building that is beyond their means. Kovalchik stated that the administrators, architects, and engineers are going to need verbal direction on how the board wishes to move forward regarding the closure of any buildings and construction of a new facility to prepare the Act 34 booklet, which justifies the need for the 329 elementary school project. Kovalchik added that the board will not be married to the decision and can choose to change its mind down the road.
Moving forward, the school board will need to provide verbal direction to begin the documentation for the hearing during the September 12 meeting and then vote to advertise the hearing during the October 10 meeting. Kovalchik stated that the tentative meeting for the Act 34 Hearing will be Thursday, November 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the middle school cafeteria.
Next, Kovalchik addressed the questions asked at the July meeting regarding transgender students in sports and explained that PIAA does not have a policy on transgender students competing in sports. Rather, PIAA leaves the decision up to the districts.
Director of Athletics Shaun Murray added that he is unaware of any policies in place by the other districts in Northampton’s league and that situations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Vaughn asked, “Are there any trans athletes participating in sports in NASD at this time?”
Kovalchik stated that although there are transgender students throughout the district, he did not know whether he could legally answer the question due to confidentially. Solicitor Steven Miller added that Vaughn’s question was difficult to answer because identifying students runs the risk of crossing the line between information that is made public and information that is protected under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Several residents voiced their concern about their daughters and granddaughters sharing a bathroom or a locker room with transgender students.
One resident stated, “We need to be proactive with transgender individuals in sports because of the emotional and physical damage that can happen.”
Another resident expressed, “What about the other students that might not feel comfortable using the same bathroom? It’s not about being homophobic or transphobic, but there have been documented cases of assault. NASD should look into being proactive before something happens. Maybe transgenders should be allowed to use faculty bathrooms.”
Kovalchik noted, “We’re going to continue to work through this, but there’s only one way we’re going to be able to do this, and that’s if we work together to solve problems.”
In other business relating to the agenda, the board unanimously voted to approve the following: the hire of Adam Eisenberg as PE Social Studies Teacher at the middle school; a revised listing of 2022-2023 Fall Season Head Coaches and Assistant Coaches; the hire of Jacob Hunsberger, Daniele Bowman, and Michael Missmer as Assistants to the Athletic Director for the upcoming school year; a contract between NASD and Sarah Aduddell as a Psychoeducational Evaluator; the hire of Tara Dugas as a 12-month District School Psychologist; the Department Coordinators’, District Coordinators’, Middle School Subject Leaders’, and Team Leaders’ compensation for the school year; a list of mentors and inductees for the school year; the hire of Tina Harding as PE Elementary Library Science Teacher at the Borough and George Wolf Elementary Schools; the hire of Jessica Armour as a Grade 5 long-term Substitute Teacher at Siegfried Elementary; Summer Bridge Library workers and their reimbursement; the hire of Ian Luberti as Study Hall Instructional Assistant at NAHS; the hire of Lauren Calderon as PE Special Education Teacher at Siegfried Elementary; the hire of Benjamin Leavitt as TPE Instrumental Music Teacher at the middle school; extra-curricular and supplemental positions for the school year; the hire of David Domchek as long-term Substitute Special Education Teacher at George Wolf Elementary; and the hire of Chantal Pastor as Hall Monitor at NAHS.
The board also unanimously voted to approve the agenda policy items, which included approval, ratify, and confirm the filing of the District-Initiated Tax Assessment Appeals for the properties recommended for appeal based on Policy 628 guidelines, as well as the adoption of new/revised policies listed as 200 – Enrollment of Students; 202.1 – Education of Children Residing with an Adult Other Than Natural and/or Custodial Parent; 218 – Student Discipline; and 237 – Electronic Devices.
Last, the board voted to approve the following agenda items listed under finances: a five-year renewal agreement with K12 Systems, Inc. for Student Information System and Special Education software licensing, support, and hosting with an annual cost of $149,941; a subscription with EduTek Solutions, LLC for inventory management and helpdesk ticketing software at a cost of $7,990; PlanCon Part K, Project Refinancing with approval to submit PlanCon Part K to the Pennsylvania Department of Education; two Settlement Agreements and Releases for Special Education Students; the New Story Tuition Agreement at a cost currently scheduled to be $405 per school day or $72,900; the Public Official Bonds through Willis of Pennsylvania, Inc. with Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland as the carrier for Assistant Board Secretary Denise Vilkauskas’ one-year term with a $25,000 limit and Board Treasurer Jason Williamson’s one-year term with a $25,000 limit; a four-year (4) extension of the current contract with Fellerman & Ciarimboli Law, P.C. under the same terms and conditions as the original contract commencing August 1, 2022, through August 1, 2026; a four-year (4) extension of the current contract with Keystone Realty Advisors LLC under the same terms and conditions as the original contract commencing August 1, 2022, through August 1, 2026; the Collaborative Agreement/Contract for Services between Center for Humanistic Change and Northampton Area School District for 2022-2023 to provide liaison services for the Student Assistance Program at no cost to the district; the Collaborative Agreement/Contract for Services between Community Services for Children, Inc., Head Start of the Lehigh Valley, and Northampton Area School District for 2022-2023 to implement two Head Start Pre-Ks for 40 Pre-K students residing in NASD with a cost of $40,000 to the district, which comes from NASD Title I funding for the two Pre-K classrooms; the Collaborative Agreement/Contract for Services between Community Services for Children, Inc., and Northampton Area School District for 2022-2023 to implement a “Pre-K Counts” Classroom at Franklin, George Wolf, Lehigh, and Moore Elementary School at no cost to the district; bills for payment; Treasurer’s Report; and the Memorandum of Understanding for Services between Valley Youth House and NASD for the 2022-2023 school year to provide additional counseling services at Northampton Area Middle School, Moore Elementary, George Wolf Elementary, Lehigh Elementary, and Northampton Borough Elementary School at a cost not to exceed $94,913.70 paid for through the PCCD Grant entitled Bolstering Trauma Informed Elementary Environments and a Northampton County grant secured by Valley Youth House. There is no cost to the district for these additional counseling services.
During discussion, Bretzik asked which students would take advantage of the counseling services provided by Valley Youth House.
Curriculum Supervisor of Grants and Special Programs Nicolette Teles identified that the Bounce Back Program provided Tier 2 intervention to 181 NASD students in grades K-5 that have experienced trauma. Additionally, Valley Youth House’s Tier 2 CBITS program provided intervention to 71 NASD middle school students through group settings. 87 NASD students also received school-based counseling services from Valley Youth House.
NASD also has a contract with St. Luke’s for their Tier 3 Yess! School-Based Therapy Program, which helps students overcome emotional, behavioral, or social problems that interfere with success at school and at home. There are currently 88 NASD students in the Yess! Program and an additional 110 students (55 elementary students, 38 middle school students, and 19 high school students) on the waitlist for the program and its services. Teles shared that the students have been on the waitlist since November and that St. Luke’s is aware of the situation while they are in the process of running interviews for middle and elementary school counselors. Teles added that this is not necessarily a Northampton issue, but rather a community issue and that the district is trying to get these additional mental health services for students as soon as possible.
The next Northampton School Board meeting will be Monday, September 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the NAHS auditorium, located at 1619 Laubach Ave.