Wawasee School Board discusses Confederate flag and student safety

Several speakers commented on Thursday’s Confederate flag incident at the Wawasee School Board meeting Tuesday.

Dusty Nabinger spoke first, saying he believes the dozen or so students who flew Confederate flags on their vehicles and wore it on their clothing were being singled out for their beliefs. It wasn’t clear whether he has a son among those in question. He did say the boys had received threats of physical harm for flying the flag.

Jason Bowen said the incident “was widening the racial gap.”

Both speakers were asked to identify themselves for the record, but neither said where they were from. An internet search shows a Dustin Nabinger with a Leesburg address.

James Flecker, the school corporation’s director of personnel and legal services, said the incident wasn’t about the flag itself, but the disruption in classrooms and of the learning process. He also said a faculty member at the high school heard students make threats to African-American students.

“The disruptions were not speculation; it affected the learning process,” Flecker said.

He went on to say that any student who feels like their safety may be compromised needs to report it to school administrators so action can be taken.

Flecker said the corporation’s response to the incident Thursday may have appeared to be random, but protocols were followed.

Wawasee High School Principal Kim Nguyen said he tried to use the issue as a teaching moment, but the students in question were not receptive to hearing how the Confederate flag represents different things to different people.

Both Nguyen and Flecker expressed concern that outsiders came on school property to take photos of the trucks and their license plates. Flecker said, “It’s disturbing when anyone comes on campus to single out students, regardless of the circumstances.”

Flecker wrapped up the conversation when it began to circle around to making the same points repeatedly, but added that the dialogue continues.

Superintendent Dr. Tom Edington added that Friday and Monday “were about as normal of school days as you can have with 1,000 students in school, and that’s a credit to the administration and their efforts to preserve the learning environment.”

Later in the meeting, Nguyen announced a partnership with the federal Jobs for America’s Graduates program. JAG is a program to help students who have had challenging or traumatic life experiences graduate from high school, and provides a year of follow-up counseling after graduation.

Nguyen said the program will have a dedicated staff member but the salary of that person will be paid for by the program.

“How could we not want to join this program?” he said.

In his report, Edington noted the school corporation’s enrollment is down some, with 2,956 students enrolled. He said ideally there would be 3,000 students enrolled, but all the schools bordering the Wawasee Corp. are also down, with the exception of Fairfield Community Schools.

Edington also discussed substitute teacher pay, saying what WCS pays compares favorably to other districts. He added there is a bonus paid to retired teachers who sub.

The board also approved the Wawasee High School Building Corp. buying the middle school building on Ind. 13, then leasing it back to the school corporation in an accounting procedure that will help finance renovations throughout the corporation in 2019.

The board gave its approval to an Indiana Department of Homeland Security grant for $96,052, the corporation’s share for the Safe Schools program recently started by the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s emergency preparedness office.

Once the program is implemented, teachers will be able to summon help with the push of a cellphone button. It will also alert all law enforcement officers in the area in the event of an active intruder situation.