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The Watkins Glen girls varsity basketball team was honored at the Board meeting.

Sports honors, policy proposals mark School Board meeting

WATKINS GLEN, May 7, 2019 -- The Watkins Glen School Board meeting Tuesday night was a mix of traditional honors for successful winter athletes, and proposals to shake up tradition by changing school policies.

The athletes honored included WGHS junior Gabe Planty, who reached the New York State Track and Field Indoor Championships competing in the 1600 Meter Run. He was presented an Outstanding Athletic Achievement Award certificate by track coach Rod Weeden. Also honored, but absent, was 9th grade Race Walker Kaylana Rekczis, who won a Section IV, Class C title in that event.

The school's girls varsity basketball team was also honored for a season that saw it reach the State Championship Final in Class C. Coach Alicia Learn called each member of the team forward to receive a certificate, and then they posed for a group photo. Certificates went to Hannah Morse, Taylor Kelly, Danielle Leszyk, Aislinn Klemann, Adrienna Solomon, Jena Slater, Kelsey Kernan, Ali LaMoreaux, Kathleen Clifford, Natalie Edmister, Abby Gibson, Mattie Yontz, and Jenna Solomon.

The School Board also was treated to a song sung by 2nd through 6th graders who are presenting the district's first elementary musical on May 16 and 17 in the High School Auditorium. The play -- "The Most Epic Birthday Party Ever!" -- will be presented at 6:30 p.m. both evenings.

Once the board meeting proper started -- after a lengthy executive session -- Superintendent Greg Kelahan touched on the matter of policy to say he is starting a dialogue aimed at removing cell phones from the hands of students in class unless considered necessary to its educational goals and so decided by the teacher.

As "tech marches on," he said, the school has installed more computers than the total of students and staff, outstripping a need that once existed for cell phone usage to supplement the class experience. "I don't find cell phone access necessary any more," he said. "It doesn't make sense any more. They are very disruptive."

The policy currently is an "Opt Out" one, he said, where a student can use his or her phone in class unless forbade by a teacher. "Now," he said, "we need an Opt In policy," where the cell phone use would occur only at the behest of the teacher.

He said he would be contacting parents and students to further discuss the matter. Meanwhile, he indicated formation by the next meeting of a specific policy proposal.

Kelahan also noted that he is struggling with the fact that students who travel annually on the Senior Trip to Washington, D.C. are charged for the trip when, in fact, it is "very much embedded in curriculum." Other matters of curriculum do not carry a separate charge, he added, noting that he "will be slowly trying to move expenses" related to the trip away from their traditional mandatory standing.


The other policy initiative at the meeting was presented by seniors Annika Wickham and Grace Wickham, the latter Editor in Chief of the school newspaper, the Seneca Times. Annika is a reporter and editor on the paper.

They asked the board to expand the parameters of a policy adopted in 1997 -- "four years before Annika and I were even born," said Grace.

"We want to update the policy to fit the times," said Annika, noting that journalism and communication in general have greatly evolved since the original policy was put in place.

"The policy is not personalized to the school district at all," added Grace, who said the idea is "to match what we now are doing in the classroom."

She and Annika have worked since October on the issue with administrator Kai D'Alleva, who also consulted with an attorney. The Student Press Law Center provided a 10-page draft of ideas that the Wickhams and D'Alleva pared down.

The original policy simply read: "All student publications must comply with the rules for responsible journalism. Libelous statements, unfounded charges and accusations, obscenity, false statements, materials advocating racial or religious prejudice, hatred, violence, the breaking of laws and school policies and/or regulations or materials designed to disrupt the educational process will not be permitted."

The girls wanted added: "It is the policy of the Watkins Glen Central School District Board of Education that student journalists shall have the right to determine the content of student media with final approval from an advisor. Overall such speech and or publication cannot interfere with or impinge upon the rights of other students, faculty, or staff." And it touted the need for proper grammar, punctuation, balance, and vulgar-free language, among other things.

They also made a pitch for a website version of the school newspaper, arguing that it is more flexible than a print paper that comes out periodically. It would, they said, contain mostly photos, with short descriptions that often would not require advisor or administrative approval -- although such approval would be retained for more substantive pieces. A website, would, beyond that, offer training in Photoshop, layout, and "digital citizenship."

Kelahan said that while permitting the presentation by the Wickhams offered an opportunity for "respectful discourse," it did not mean he was endorsing the plan. He hadn't really considered it yet, he told the Board.

Also present at the meeting were School Board candidates Theresa Butler, Mary Barnes and Craig Bianco, each of whom told the board why they were running in the May 21 election. A pair of three-year seats are available -- currently held by Kristin Hazlitt and Mark Franzese, neither of whom is seeking re-election.

Photos in text: From the top: Honoree Gabe Planty, Superintendent Greg Kelahan, and presenters Grace Wickham (left) and Annika Wickham.

From left: School Board candidates Craig Bianco, Theresa Butler and Mary Barnes.

Watkins Glen Elementary students performed a song from their upcoming play.


© The Odessa File 2019
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869