With recent news about children having physical consequences from vaping, Alexandria school district officials are more concerned with students and harmful substances being breathed into their lungs than ever.

“With vaping being a new challenge in our world, how might we get to kids earlier?” Rick Sansted, the district's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said during the Alexandria School Board meeting on Monday, Aug. 19. He said a solution is the partnership the district has with the Healthy Voices Healthy Choices coalition through Horizon Public Health.

Katie Strickler, the coalition coordinator, told the school board that the coalition has 14 sectors, including law enforcement, school staff, parents and community members. It is funded by a five-year grant from the behavioral health division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The coalition has focused recently on alcohol and vaping issues among students. Group members aim to educate the community and students on the health risks of each.

At the middle school and high school level, the life skills curriculum consists of three main components: drug resistance skills, personal self management skills and general social skills.

Strickler said the coalition is bringing in local businesses to greet students before school. When students feel they are cared for by adults in the community, they are less likely to engage in substance abuse.

The group has also distributed more than 500 decks of cards encouraging conversations between parents and students about staying drug and alcohol free.

One of the coalition’s other protocols is to reach out to students, and Strickler brought two Alexandria Area High School students to the meeting.

Brittany Lanus, an incoming sophomore, is a part of the high school's VIBE group. VIBE helps others make healthy choices in and outside of the classroom, she said.

Her favorite part of being in the group last year was handing out candy with encouraging messages to students during prom week.

“I want to help others in the way that this has helped everyone else,” she said.

Katlyn Eggert, also an incoming 10th grader, joined VIBE because a teacher invited her to join after witnessing her leadership skills.

Eggert’s favorite activity last year was handing out popcorn at a basketball game with encouraging messages written on the box. She also mentioned running an activity where students spun a wheel and answered a question about drugs or alcohol where they could win a prize.

“(VIBE is) super fun,” she said.

“We’re thankful to have the coalition here in our community, keeping our kids safe and helping empower young people to help others,” Sansted said.

Students caught vaping at the high school are given an in-school suspension on the first offense. Middle school students caught vaping receive an out-of-school suspension and parent notification.

Board member Alan Zeithamer was unhappy with these consequence policies.

“Out of school suspension: 1950s mentality. In school suspension: 1970s mentality,” he said. “I think we’re way off base with these, not even hand grenade close.”

Zeithamer said the board needed to put time and energy into changing these policies.

“You’re going to send a middle school kid home that’s vaping, so what do we think he’s going to do while he, or she, is home alone suspended on a school day?” he asked the board.

“Go home and vape,” board member Sandy Susag answered.

Superintendent Julie Critz said the board is going to look into the vaping discipline policy.

Transition Center

Special education teachers Ellen Anderson, Beth Wiirre and Jennifer Seesz told board members about an effort to help special education students who have graduated from AAHS.

The Transition Center allows these students to take classes on managing stress, physical fitness, public transportation, nutritional cooking, service learning and more.

“I’m a big person about getting students out into our community and making them feel like they are contributing like all of us do,” Seesz said. “None of us (teachers) are really classroom people. We like to get them out into the community and expose them to as many opportunities as they can receive.”

Emergency plan

Human Resources Director Scott Heckert said the emergency management plan for district staff is updated yearly. The plan this year has a completely new approach.

The information on what teachers should do if an emergency occurred used to be stored in three-ring binders, but is now stored via cell phones, Heckert said.

Staff members who see a potential threat to a school building can set an alert or alarm on their device, which will appear on all computers and staff cell phones. Depending on what type of crisis it is, a checklist will also appear, letting each staff member know what to do.

Law enforcement, ambulances and firefighters also have access to this alert and will be notified if necessary.

Part of the checklist will be a list of students who are in each class at any given time, plus parent contact information.

“This really is a good step for us in terms of creating a safe environment and making sure that we can manage these crises,” Heckert said.

In other matters

  • Alexandria Public Schools received a $38,900 grant from the Alexandria Public Schools Education Foundation to support Alexandria Public Schools Projects.

  • AAHS received a $5,000 grant from the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council to support the summer agronomy course.

  • Alexandria Public Schools received a $10,000 donation from the Dale Serum family as a way of saying thank you for all the years he was employed as activities director.

  • The board sent a grant application to Sanford Health for $4,000 to support the cost of CNA programming in partnership with Alomere Health, Knute Nelson and Bethany on the Lake.

  • Paraprofessional Rosemary O’Brien retired in June after 34 years working in the district.

  • The school board is required to canvass election results 3-10 days after the Nov. 5 election, which will let voters decide if the district will receive an operating levy. The board scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 6:30 a.m. in the District Office Maple Conference Room.