Steel Valley discusses behavior at Barrett Elementary, dress code changes

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Teachers and other staff at Barrett Elementary School in Homestead do not feel safe and are overwhelmed with student behavioral problems, the Steel Valley school board was told Monday night.

“Right now, we have staff feeling unsafe,” Superintendent Ed Wehrer said. “Their concerns are legitimate, and it’s something we can and should address.”

Denise Barron, a behavioral support teacher at Barrett, told the board that students in her classroom have thrown chairs 15 times this school year and many of the children greet her with obscenities.

School board President Donna Kiefer, who visited Barrett with school director Donald Bajus on Friday, said, “The teachers have relayed that they’re overwhelmed down there, and so have the [teacher aides].”

Mrs. Kiefer has previously suggested that special education and autistic students at Barrett be moved to Park Elementary while the behaviorally challenged students remain at Barrett.

She said district officials hope to make that change in time for the 2014-15 school year.

Mr. Wehrer said some money is available in the district’s budget to pay for psychological services.

He said Barrett has only one support class for students with behavioral problems, with one teacher and one aide. He suggested the district hire two behavioral support specialists for the school, one for the behavior support class, and one to roam the building.

Mrs. Kiefer said Barrett principal Kevin Walsh suggested hiring a retired police officer who could carry a gun at the school, but Homestead police Chief Jeff DeSimone said that would not be helpful because the officer would have no jurisdiction in Homestead.

She said the chief suggested that if the district couldn’t get a grant to pay for a school resource officer, it could perhaps share expenses with Homestead to pay for such an officer, who would be a Homestead police officer who would be at Barrett during school hours.

 At tonight's meeting, the school board is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt a new dress code for the district, although the specific requirements will not be included. The board will solicit input from parents through May 27 to “tweak” the dress code, she said.

Mrs. Kiefer said she has developed a rough draft of a new dress code for school directors to use as a starting point. The code would require students to wear black or khaki pants and collared short-sleeve polo shirts in the school colors of white, yellow, gold, maroon and burgundy.

Former school board president Beth Cannon said parents have told her in the past two weeks that they are satisfied with the current dress code and they have asked why the district isn’t enforcing it and what officials will do to enforce a new one.

She said parents often cannot be reached by phone when they are called to take their child home to change or asked to bring in different clothes.

Students in grades 6-12 have completed a school survey about the proposed dress code. Middle schoolers were neutral on the topic, and high school students wanted no restriction on their clothes, Mrs. Kiefer said.

The district conducted a survey of parents on the district website, which ended Wednesday, and Mr. Wehrer expects to have a report on the parents’ preferences before the vote tonight.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: First Published May 1, 2014 12:00 AM

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