New sexual harassment policy adopted by School Board

An updated sexual harassment policy was approved by the Skagway School Board almost a month before the 2018-2019 school year is set to begin.

Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said the policy is a “perfect example” of student advocacy and students having a voice in how the school is governed.

Before the April school board meeting, a work session over the policy had been held.

“What started it was our policy that had been in place for over a decade didn’t really do a very good job of defining what sexual harassment is,” Coughran said. “Or outline actions that the administration can take in terms of – if there’s a violation – how to handle it.”

Coughran said students had asked for a better definition of sexual harassment, and concrete steps that the district can take in the event of such a situation, including what the investigation would look like and what the resolutions should be.

The new policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

“Conduct is unwelcome if the student did not request or invite it and/or regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive,” the policy states. “Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

“I think that’s really the biggest change here, is that we’re going to be able to educate students, staff, parents, the community about what is classified as harassment, what is classified as assault,” Coughran said.

The board approved the new policy unanimously.

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Cross-country coach hired for new year

Blake Bottle, an Alaska X employee and 24-year-old marathon runner from Phoenix, Arizona, accepted the cross-country coaching position for Skagway School’s 2018-2019 year.

Bottle says he is excited to coach, and has been wanting to get involved in the community he’s called home for over a year.

“I like to equate myself as a 15-year-old at heart, so it will be good to be with my peers in that aspect,” Bottle said. “I just have knowledge in running, I know how to work hard, I know how to foster a good community, I know how to motivate students and I am looking forward to getting these kids off the couch and getting better and having a good time doing it.”

Track and field co-coaches Kent Fielding and Kate Bauer had expressed interest in jointly coaching the cross-country team, however the coaching role was given to Bottle at the July 17 School Board meeting.

Concerns had been voiced by parents after both Fielding and Bauer were absent at the state track meet this May. Fielding had been unable to attend due to planned travel and an anniversary celebration and Bauer was unable to attend due to a family member’s wedding. Erik Wortman, a former science teacher and cross-country coach for Skagway, had been chosen to coach students at the meet in their stead.

School Board Vice President Darren Belisle had shared those comments about Fielding’s absence at the state meet to the school board earlier in the summer. He said parent concerns were “mostly not knowing that our coaches weren’t going to state.”

“This to me would have been a non-issue if it would have been put out there that the coaches weren’t going to be able to make it and it would have been done and it would have been over with, but it was kind of a surprise especially for me,” Belisle said.

As a result of the feedback, Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said he’d requested a schedule from Fielding and a week went by without response. Later a series of emails between Coughran and Fielding only further wrinkled the discussion of coaching expectations. Coughran said he ultimately saw no other choice but to post for the job and begin the search for a potential coach.

“I’m certain that there were some wires crossed along the way, but I think that the board, the parents, the community have the right to raise concerns and that’s what happened,” Coughran said during the July 17 board meeting. “And we tried to put some protocol in place to avoid things happening again and the response was, ‘go ahead and post it [the job].’” However, Fielding read Coughran’s emails with less optimism than was intended.

“So the message I received from Josh (or at least the way I read it) was that he was uncertain that even if Kate and I gave a detailed practice schedule and meet list that the school board would hire us,” Fielding said in an email. “This [is] why I told him to open up the position because he needed someone else if the board said no to us.”

The July 17 board meeting began with a speech from Fielding, sharing success stories about students from his English class and mentioning memories and achievements that he fostered as a cross-country and track and field coach since 2005. Fielding has been an athletic coach for over 15 years at Skagway and has led many local runners to impressive titles and race placements. Fielding said that he even coached the first five years of track and field for free with no contract and his influence has significantly shaped the school’s running programs.

“My presentation at the board meeting was less about being hired, as I knew who the board was going to hire, but to give a farewell to the program that I spent many years building, and to remind the board of all the time and dedication I had given to it and other programs,” said Fielding in an email. “As I stated in my speech, it felt like being fired. I believe I earned the benefit of the doubt after some many years (and four superintendents) of work.”

Danny Brady, upcoming senior and cross-country runner, spoke to the school board on July 17, requesting that Bauer and Fielding be hired for cross-country for his final year of high school.

“I am kind of hoping that with an experienced coach who has done this before and coached many successful runners from Skagway, and knows the meets, knows the other coaches, knows the routes and knows what to do is available to us … I’d like to see Fielding and Kate come back to coach the cross-country team for my senior year,” Brady said. Brady also relayed other students’ desires to the school board, expressing Gavin Goebel’s hope for Fielding and Bauer to co-coach, as well as Madison Cox’s hope for Bottle to coach.

“I think given the evidence that’s in front of us, it was offered, they [Fielding and Bauer] didn’t submit a proposal, Blake seems like a qualified candidate,” said Denise Sager, school board member, during the board’s discussion of the coaching contract. “I was moved just like everyone else was with Kent’s sentiment.” Alongside Bottle, two other positions with the school were filled by the school board on July 17.
Bauer was hired as the distance education/college and career coordinator, and Chezare Leipold was hired as a FIRST Lego League Robotics coach.

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