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New tennis courts on tap at SHS

First phase will cost nearly $500,000; Health Life Safety funds will pay bulk

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014 2:22 p.m. CDT

STERLING – There will be a new bounce to the Sterling High School tennis courts come next school year.

The school board Wednesday approved paying $493,000 to replace the aging courts along East Miller Road on the north end of campus.

Also Wednesday, the board gave preliminary approval to policy updates for student handbooks that cover, among other things, when and how the district is allowed to access students’ social media sites, the use of medical marijuana and concealed carry prohibitions.

Most of the tennis court money, $405,146, is coming from existing Health Life Safety funds. Only $36,736 will come from district funds; a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Tennis Association and $31,000 in donations pay the rest of the costs, said Tim Schwingle, the district’s director of finance.

This is the first and biggest phase of the project; work is expected to be completed this summer.

More repairs, involving new lights, walkways and upgrades to the nearby discus area, also are planned. Money for the rest of the project is being sought, Schwingle said.

Martin & Co. Excavating of Oregon won the bid.

As for the proposed handbook policies, two members of the public spoke, expressing their concern. One, parent Amanda Norris, said she found much of the wording, especially when it came to the social media policy, too vague, and worried that that could lead to potential violations of students’ constitutional rights.

The changes or additions, which will be voted on at the May 13 meeting, include the following:

School officials will be allowed to “request or require” passwords or other access to a student’s social networking sites, but “only if there is reasonable cause to believe that the student’s account contains evidence that he or she violated a school disciplinary rule or board policy.

The policy applies to all posts, public or private, posted from school or any other site, including a student’s home, especially those that include “violence against others, bullying, harassment and intimidation, alcohol and/or substance abuse, weapon usages and any other content that violates the student code of conduct.”

It does not include access to a student’s email.

Those changes are in line with the state’s Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act (Public Act 98-129), which took effect Jan. 1.

“The use or possession of medical cannabis, even by a student for whom medical cannabis has been prescribed,” is prohibited under the state’s Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act (Public Act 98-122).

• Weapons of any type always have been banned from school property and school-sponsored activities. New wording prohibits all weapons, regardless of whether “a student is licensed to carry a concealed firearm.”

That’s in keeping with the requirement’s of the state’s new Concealed Carry Act (Public Act 98-63).

While acknowledging that the district seems to be following the restrictions set forth in state law, Norris, a local tea party leader, said she found the officials’ ability to demand passwords for information on a student’s home computer for the vaguely worded “reasonable cause” to be “overreaching.”

Schools should not be allowed such access without certain proof of wrongdoing, she said, adding that schoools should not be allowed access to information that’s not in “the public domain.”

Norris also questioned the wording banning “all weapons from school grounds,” noting that baseball bats might under certain circumstances be used a weapons.

“We believe our children have a right to maintain their First Amendment rights,” she said. “I don’t think their rights end the minute they enter the school.”

To learn more

The full text of the new laws under which the Sterling School Board is crafting its handbook policies can be viewed at ilga.gov, the state Legislature's website.

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