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Bigfork School Board approves implementation of vape detectors, more security cameras

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | July 20, 2022 12:00 AM

The Bigfork School Board voted to accept the purchase of vape detectors and security cameras for the Elementary/Middle school, heard from a public commenter about racism in the district and announced the resignation of a trustee at their July board meeting last week.

At their June 29 meeting, the board voted to approve the purchase of vape detectors and more cameras for the high school, as well as buzzer systems for both the elementary/middle and high schools.

The systems for both schools, which includes new cameras, the buzzer systems and vape detectors, come out to around $164,000 in total costs. They will be purchased from Digital Communications Systems, Inc. in Kalispell.

The camera system at the elementary/middle school cost $60,250.48 and the vape sensor cabling cost $3,955.52.

Superintendent Tom Stack said the vape detectors and improved security cameras will help teachers spend less time trying to figure out which students are vaping in the bathroom. Board Chair Paul Sandry gave a recap of the last meeting, where he and Trustee Ben Woods opposed the purchase, and said he feels the same way for this measure too.

“Ben and I didn't think it was worth the outlay of cash, and I can't tell you how much more opposed I am to this than to that— that being the high school one. I don't think we have a vape problem at the elementary school— maybe we do. And I don't think we need a camera system to catch kids at the elementary school, and I didn’t think so at the high school either,” Sandry said.

Stack later clarified that the vape detection system would be installed in the middle school portion of the building. Bigfork Elementary and Middle schools operate out of the same building.

Trustee Christina Relyea said she supported the measure because all three school principals spoke in favor of the systems and told the board it “would make their jobs easier.” She said the funds would come out of the district’s Verizon account and Medicaid account— nothing from taxpayer dollars. She said the clearer cameras will make it easier to catch students not only for vaping, but for other matters as well.

High School Principal Mark Hansen said the school’s current cameras make it hard to discern detail and don’t cover all of the needed areas. The new system will supplement those older cameras.

Anderson spoke in favor of the purchases, adding that administrators spend enough time trying to sort out issues with students and that this could help them get to the bottom of problems quicker.

“Again, you know, the stuff these administrators have to go through to sort out differences, either between two students or their habits or behaviors that are doing— if this helps them get through that, solve it quicker and move on. Unfortunately, I think that's where we're at and the times we’re in and they suck, but I'm going to support them. We already have cameras, apparently they don’t work. So, we might as well make some to do,” Anderson said.

Trustee Julie Kreiman also spoke in favor of the purchase. She said even though it is being implemented to prevent vaping, it can also screen for many other things.

The measure passed three to two, with Relyea, Anderson and Kreiman voting in favor and Sandry and Woods opposing.

During public comment, Sarah Peterson addressed the board about a student’s recent battle with racism at Bigfork which led to her not only moving districts, but leaving the state of Montana. She said she didn’t want to get into the specifics of the letter to protect the privacy of the student.

“The next time a situation arises regarding racism, use of inappropriate language or racial slurs, you know that it is not an isolated event here in Bigfork. I understand that her letter did not leave much actionable for the school or the board and that it was meant as her goodbye to Bigfork. But, I hope that you are all now aware of the pain that she suffered as a result of her fellow students' poor judgment and lack of empathy,” Peterson said.

She said the board should have received a copy of the student’s letter. Woods said he had read the letter and that he was “shocked by it." He said he was very surprised that those kinds of experiences happen in the schools.

Anderson said he knows the student in question and wasn't aware of her hardships.

“I never once suspected that she was having such a hard time and her letter spoke to that— that she just kept it inside and that breaks my heart. I addressed it with my own son, in my own house and thank God I don't have any reason to believe that he was any of the commenters. If he was, he would have met some pretty strong discipline in my house. So my heart breaks for her and I pray that it's not going on with anybody else here either,” Anderson said.

Relyea said she believes it’s an issue at the schools. She said she knows of one other family who left the district after experiencing racism, plus two more students who stayed but reported the same problems.

After discussion from the board, Peterson wanted to clarify that the racism was perpetrated by fellow students and that staff and administration had no part in it.

In other board news, Trustee Jessica Martinz announced her resignation at Wednesday’s meeting. She has served on the board since 2014.

“I really enjoyed serving on the board and meeting all of you guys. All you guys have been really good friends and I've learned a lot from the administration and the teachers. Just through the whole process— I've really enjoyed it. I’d just like to thank everyone,” Martinz said.

Her seat covers the Salmon Prairie area near Swan Lake. Sandry said the board will meet with Stack to go over a list of registered voters from that area and see if anyone is interested in filling her seat. Martinz term expires in 2023. Anyone with questions can contact the district office at 406-837-7400.

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Board Trustee Jessica Martinz announced she's stepping down from the board at Wednesday's meeting. (Taylor Inman/Bigfork Eagle)