Blood boils over the future of two middle school names

Name changes for Holland Middle School and Newtown Middle School were up for approval at last week’s meeting of the Council Rock School Board, but the board members present voted all in favor of the new motion set by Council Rock School Board President Edward F. Tate III.

Board Members Mark Byelich and Jerold Grupp had led efforts for Newtown Middle School to be renamed Brian Gregg Middle School and for Holland Middle School to become Kenneth Elwell Middle School.

Both excused themselves momentarily while the board members voted on the final motion made by the president.

“I’m not supportive of either motion,” said the school board president, when he discussed the two original proposals on the agenda. “We’ll do it by engaging the school community, by engaging students and the broader public.”

Grupp mentioned that though two specific individual names have been featured for consideration, their names on the buildings would represent a larger group and provide a learning opportunity for students.

Through the two local ties, it is a way for the school district to honor fallen service members and policemen.

United States Army Master Sgt. Kenneth Elwell died in the line of duty in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Before the tour that took his life, the Council Rock High School alumnus was also stationed in South Korea, Iraq and an earlier tour in Afghanistan.

Elwell is a recipient of a Purple Heart and was recognized by the Travis Manion Foundation in 2013, which is also this year’s district charity.

Newtown Borough Police Officer Brian Gregg was killed in the line of duty in 2005 when Robert Flor was in police custody for drinking and driving and domestic violence.

While getting tests done in the emergency room, Flor gained possession of Officer James Warunek’s gun and shot Gregg.

School Board member Denise Brooks felt “uncomfortable” making a decision on the two original naming motions in question. She advised that a policy should be developed to promote a more structured naming process.

“I don’t necessarily think that the teaching moment is lost,” said Brooks. “We could discuss possibly naming the soccer field at Holland Middle School for Sergeant Elwell or maybe the courtyard.”

The part that makes the decision difficult is that the district does not want to dishonor veterans or active servicemen, and in particular the families of Elwell and Gregg.

“In 17 years, I’ve seen good people not approved by this district, I’ve seen good people not appointed to this board, I’ve seen schools close, I’ve seen many things, taxes increase. This is a disappointment,” said Grupp.

“I’ll make the motion to table at this time.”

The pressure to come to a resolution of the fate of the facilities in question came in December 2016.

Even if the final decision is to not do a name change, it could result in cost increases for the district because the contractor has to purchase products from a company that may have raised the prices of their products after the start of the new year.

“At this point, whether a name change would be made at the Feb. 16 board meeting or the March 16 board meeting… I don’t think it adds up to a whole lot from a dollar and cents standpoint,” said Council Rock Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser.

“It will cost us money because we missed that deadline.”

Later at the meeting, it was decided that the topic would be addressed again during the March 2 Facilities Committee Meeting at The Chancellor Center.

Amendments to outdated policies

The Council Rock Board of School Directors is in the midst of a two-year project to update all of the school district’s 284 policies that will come into effect during the 2018-2019 school year.

All but board member Dr. Bill Foster were in favor of the meeting’s proposed updates.

Of the 284 policies, Policy 111 (Lesson Plans), Policy 115 (Career and Technical Education), Policy 118 (Independent Study), Policy 137 (Home Education Programs) and the new policy (Extracurricular Participation by Home Education Students) were up for discussion.

“We’re updating them to make sure they are updated with current laws, current practices and terminology,” said Council Rock Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser. The last time the board reviewed the policies like this was back in the 1990s.

Foster’s vote not in favor of the policies was not about the ideas behind the policies, but rather the outdated jargon used to express some ideas or a lack of explanation. “One of them was about lesson plans and it still spoke to a physical object,” he said. “I thought it was important to talk about electronic processes.”

Foster mentioned that school boards tend to comply with the policies outlined by The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, but his actions were to stress that a “local focus” and minor modifications were worth the effort. 

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