Amy Policky

Policky

A step toward a formal student suicide prevention strategy was taken Monday as the Rapid City Area School Board engaged two nationally known experts to assess the district’s needs.

Consultants Scott Poland and Richard Lieberman led recent efforts to address a contagion of student suicides around Fort Collins, Colo. Between 2013 and 2015, 29 students there committed suicide.

The initial RCAS contract calls for up to 10 hours of work from each consultant at an individual rate of $100 per hour.

RCAS began moving toward a suicide prevention program following the deaths of three male high school students in July and September.

Matt Seebaum, RCAS assistant superintendent for educational services, said the district’s objective was to have a prevention plan ready to implement by the end of the school year and operating by September 2018.

After initial planning, Poland and Lieberman will be employed for a second and larger phase of using webinars to roll out the district program.

The ultimate goal, Seebaum said, is to involve students in prevention.

“How do we help students help us help their peers?”

In other action, the board voted 4-2 to set Aug. 29 as the student start date for the 2018-19 school year. Initially, some board members raised concerns about the effect on students of a short week followed by a three-day holiday weekend. That kicked off a discussion about the desirability of easing kids, especially elementary students, back into a tougher schedule.

Other concerns included the needs of the tourism industry for student employees before Labor Day and the desire of parents to end the school year before Memorial Day. A minimum number of days are needed.

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Ultimately, however, the debate centered on whether students would be better served if the district opted for a year-round school calendar. Research has shown that poor students, especially, tend to backslide on educational progress during summer vacations.

Board members Amy Policky and Christine Stephenson voted against setting the 2018 start date as a means of furthering a larger school calendar discussion.

Board member Ron Riherd said a need for more funding to pay for year-round school would figure into that discussion.

Policky urged the creation of a study session that could soon begin a full review of the 2019-20 school calendar.

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