Elementary Zoning Delayed, Sex Offender Policy & Filling Nellis' Slot

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

In a surprise move, the Rockford school board decides to push back a controversial plan to move elementary schools from choice to attendance zones. Board members say public outcry had a lot to do with the decision.
Parents from elementary schools across the district have spoken out in recent weeks, saying the zoning proposals would have destroyed valuable programs and further segregated our city and that the process was being rushed.
Tuesday night the school board responded to those concerns. The initial plan was to move all schools at once next school year, now board members say the earliest the transition could happen is fall 2009.
It's possible the zoning could then be phased in in stages, a system for balancing socio-economics could be worked out and programs like the Barbour language academy and Haskell year-round academy will have more time to prove why they should stay intact.
"The elementary plan, as we expected is much more complicated than the middle school and high school. A lot of programs being affected, so there was just a pretty communal desire to give some consideration to extending the process," says school board president Nancy Kalchbrenner.
"I believe and hope that you can have the best of both worlds and I think if you take enough time you can sort through all that information and make the appropriate decisions," says Barbour parent Monica Primm.
Three scheduled community forums are canceled, though board members say they want to encourage continued community input. They'll decide in coming weeks whether to build off the committee's previous recommendations, or completely start over from scratch. Either way they say the work put into the current proposals will not go to waste.
Also Tuesday night, board members got their first look at an updated district-wide sex offender policy.
This comes after a sex offender was allowed to chaperone a field trip at Thompson Elementary School late last month, and district leaders realized their old policy didn't match up with state code. The proposed new policy does.
It says a sex offender can only be at school for a parent teacher conference, or with special permission and notice to the school principal. A certified district employee must supervise the sex offender at all times on school grounds.
"They're bringing forward a change to make sure that's consistent and that we avoid things like that happening again with the Thompson situation. We want to make sure throughout the district that there's consistency in understanding of the policy and of the law," says board president Nancy Kalchbrenner.
The new policy also states schools must get electronic notification of registered sex offenders in their area from the sheriff's department and alert parents that they can access that information. Board members will vote whether to adopt the policy at their next meeting.
Finally, a new school board vice president is unanimously elected Tuesday night, but the search to fill a vacant school board seat continues.
Jay Nellis announced November 13th that he would step down because of frustrations with the school board. Board member Mike Williams will replace Nellis as the board's vice president. But so far no applicants in Nellis' southeast district have come forward to fill his slot.
Board members are strongly encouraging people who live in district F, near Cherry Valley to apply. Send applications to Nancy Kalchbrenner at 201 South Madison Street, Rockford, IL 61104.
The school district's website states: "Applications should include: reasons for applying; qualifications; involvement in Rockford’s public schools and/or other background in education; history of participation in community activities; goals for the Board and School District, if appointed.
The deadline for receipt of applications is 4:30 p.m. December 5, 2007. Board members have 45 days following a resignation to name a successor. Mr. Nellis was serving his second term, having first been elected in 2001."
If no one applies for Nellis' slot, the regional superintendent Richard Fairgrieves will have 30 days to appoint someone to the position.


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