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Safety issues frustrate Walworth parents



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April 02, 2013 | 03:41 PM
WALWORTH — Parents are frustrated at the lack of action from the Walworth School Board on several safety issues during the past few months.

The safety committee is only two months old, but parents said they expected safety concerns to be addressed quickly.

"I got 89 parent signatures just during the dropping and picking up kids time at school," Vanessa Tipps said. "They all said the number one issue was the fence. When I said I was stepping down, I did say I had the funds for the fence. I wanted to know why we can't still do it. Why do we have to wait through the whole process?"

Tipps, a mother of two Walworth students, volunteers at the school about 10 hours a week.

In February, Police Chief Chris Severt asked parents to prioritize a list of safety concerns before the first safety committee meeting.

"We have done a really good job of taking care of the safety and security, of the big issues," Severt said. "Things that aren't as big have fallen away. They are important, they just aren't as big."

Severt said the final decision still rests on the school board to ensure students are safe.

Recent changes at the school include all staff now wearing badges, teacher aides wearing two-way radio devices and all interior doors are locked all day.

The school already had a locked front entrance and required visitors to sign in and out.

However, the first priority from parents, a playground fence, hasn't received much attention.

The March district newsletter states that the safety committee approved getting a fence, and a vendor will be selected in the future.

However, the safety committee has yet to present this recommendation to the full board for approval.

The newsletter also stated that the item will be funded in the 2013-14 district budget.

A final district budget is approved in the fall by the entire board.

While the school board can request bids for a project, Tipps said a school board policy allows the district administrator to authorize spending up to $10,000.

Tipps said completing the fence around the playground quoted around $2,000. Knorr, under school board policy, could have approved that purchase.

"The Parents Club agreed to pay $1,500 of that (during the March 12 meeting)," Tipps said. "The remaining could come from private donations."

Communication concerns

After parents were made aware of a substitute with a criminal background working in the kitchen in late 2012, Ford said she has requested a better flow of communication from the administration. Knorr wrote in a letter to parents that she "dealt with the situation immediately, and he ... never will be again under our district's employ."

However, emails received in an open records request show that Michael Kelley-Dellach, a kitchen substitute worker, worked an additional day after Knorr asked Laura Kelley, kitchen supervisor, to send him home.

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, Knorr wrote in an email to Kelley, "I don't think it is a good idea to have him here ... because I am certain he wouldn't pass a background check at all." Her email was sent at 9:35 a.m. Kelley didn't respond until 6:06 a.m. the following day, Dec. 5.

"I really have no choice but to have him stay," Kelley wrote. "How much does a background check cost? I am sure he would pass it. He was really only charged with drunk driving."

While the school has reinstituted its already-established policy to background check every employee, Ford said communication from the school to parents hasn't gotten better. They're making it seem like it's being taken care of, but it's not," Tami Nottolini, another Walworth parent, said. "We were just trying to follow the steps, trying to make a difference. We were just trying to help the school."

Tipps said she would have liked to hear from the school regarding the recent bomb threat at Big Foot High School.

"We didn't even hear anything about the recent threats at Big Foot High School," she said. "We're a block and a half away. Don't you think we should have been on some kind of alert? The situation in the kitchen (with a substitute worker not fully vetted for employment) has opened the door for all these other safety concerns."

Frustrated parents

"When the security company that you hire says this is a priority and the chief of police said it's an accident waiting to happen, you're dealing with children, why hasn't it changed," Nottolini said. "How am I supposed to fight that? When the chief of police says it's a major concern and the administration still chooses to ignore it, how am I supposed to fight that?"

Nottolini and Tipps said they have gone through the "proper channels to bring change."

"It's not just about my kids," Nottolini said. "I care about other kids as well. It's the school as a whole."

Tipps said parents are frustrated by the rules of the school bureaucracy.

"This is why people don't go and question things," she said. "We're just shut out by the rules and regulations. I'm just disheartened by the whole thing."

Both Nottolini and Tipps were appointed to the safety committee but decided to resign because of inaction.

"We weren't allowed to do anything," Tipps said. "We were just there. We were just an audience member. They didn't give us any responsibility."

The district newsletter requested two new parent volunteers for the committee.

Parents want to help

"I volunteer there," Tipps said. "I am in that school all the time. I don't know why they haven't followed through on getting parent volunteers on the playground and before and after school."

Tipps said anyone can volunteer at the school. She asked individual teachers and staff members if they needed help in their rooms.

"You sign up with any teacher," she said. "I just went around and asked."

She said she also understands how teachers become attached to their jobs.

"I see why they're dedicated," Tipps said. "We were trying to help them. We love the staff at the school. We have nothing wrong with how the teachers work. It's the administration and process of change."

Nottolini said the school hasn't notified parents they will need to go through a background check to volunteer at the school.

"Why wasn't that in the newsletter?" she said. "Why aren't they letting parents know that? It's pretty important."

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