In preparation for the two candidate forums, I prepared answers to several questions that I thought were likely to be asked. I was right on several of them, but questions on these topics were not asked. I think that these issues are important, so I wanted to post my planned responses.

The topics:

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is a substantial problem in many districts. While we have not heard much of it in our district, under-reporting may be hiding the issue from us. In the #MeToo era, it has become painfully obvious how rampant this problem has been. In the past, I had the privilege of largely ignoring the problem because it did not affect me directly – it is good that the issue is now being brought to light so that it can be addressed openly.

The district should focus on two paths: prevention and response.

While the early efforts on college campuses to teach about consent were mocked in many circles, they have proven incredibly effective. In the not so distant past, it was considered acceptable to target potential victims and ply them with alcohol until they were unlikely (or unable) to say no. Creepy “tactics” have been developed and celebrated that seek to undermine the bodily autonomy of a potential sexual partner and to view them as a conquest. Young boys have often been taught that they can “win” sex, as if another person’s body is a reward rather than a fully-realized individual.

Instead, a focus on enthusiastic consent and an understanding both of what consent means, and when it is not possible to give, help to re-frame the issue. The district should actively seek to have these conversations about consent because they apply broadly, not just to penetrative intercourse. There is a wonderful video available online that uses tea to explain consent – I highly recommend it for everyone.

Second, as a district we need to put in places policies governing response to allegations. The accused deserve fairness and a presumption of innocence, but the rates of false reporting are exceedingly low. Policies must be crafted to address the inevitable he-said-she-said nature of this kind of case, and to establish the standards of evidence that will be expected. The current policy, while admirably broad, lacks the kind of specifics that make it work in practice. It is lumped in with harassment policy, and the policy is vague on whether or not it applies to events happening outside of school.

Our district has taken serious efforts in this regard, but there is still more that needs to be done to address this issue.

Substance abuse

Drinking and Drugs

NL-S has a problem with drugs and alcohol use among students. This issue is shared with many districts, though it appears to be more widespread here than other districts in the area. The recent SHARE survey found that, in the past 30 days, 14% of students had consumed alcohol, 8% had smoked marijuana, 10% had used traditional tobacco products, and 15% had used e-cigarettes. Each of those is about 5 percentage points higher than the average for other schools in our region.

The school district is not the only group responsible for addressing this issue, but we are in the unique position of having contact with all of these students. Interestingly, while our usage rates are higher than average, the rate at which students encountered these substances at school is actually markedly lower at NL-S than average. It suggests that we may be doing something right in the district, but that we need to coordinate with other groups to change the culture outside of the building.

The ever-present rural joke is that the absence of other activities means that drinking and drugs are one of the only outlets for entertainment. There are ways that we can change that, including providing additional safe entertainment options coordinated through the school and community. We may be able to work with local groups to develop local cultural activities that can serve as another outlet (e.g., the New London Roaming Cinema, the Little Theater, local artists, the PWELC, Alley on Ash, Spicer Cinema). Beyond that, we may be able to partner with other local organizations to develop and implement educational programs and provide treatment for students who become addicted.

Public vs. Private

I believe that support for public education is a moral imperative.

Public education is the best way to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the education that they need to be their best. Public schools allow students to interact with the entire community, not just the like-minded that can afford to pay for private school. Public schools teach evidence-based curriculum, and allow each student to learn the preferred doctrine of their families outside of the school day – without interference. Students at public schools are given the opportunity to encounter ideas different from those presented within their family and social circle – ideas that they will certainly encounter when the graduate and leave home.

Private schools can (and do) reject students who don’t fit the narrow, tailored mold of the student population or who have high needs (e.g., special education or EBD). Students who don’t sufficiently match the gender-identity, sexual-orientation, or religious tests of a private school can be excluded from their institution. By refusing to serve high-need students, the public schools are left to serve them while being denied the funding from other students.

At a state-reimbursement average of $8,000/year, every child that is private or homeschooled for their entire education (from K-12) pulls more than $100,000 in state funding out of our district. Every year, about 30 NL-S residents attend CCS – that adds up to almost a quarter million dollars. Over 17 years, that is $4 Million in funding (in today’s dollars).

Many of the other candidates have worked with private schools or supported the homeschooling of members of their own families. However, they are unlikely to be vocal about that now as they run for a place on a public school board.

I am a passionate defender of the public school system. As a board member, I will fight hard to secure the funding our community needs to run this district. I believe in creating an open, welcoming, and excellent school to serve every member of our community.

This website is prepared and paid for by Mark Peterson; PO Box 91, New London, MN 56273