Whitehall-Coplay Press

Monday, February 24, 2020

Gockley celebrates diversity, acceptance

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 by ERIN THOMAS Special to The Press in School

Inclusive Schools Week program held in December

At the Whitehall-Coplay School Board meeting Feb. 10, Demi Ogozalek, a learning support teacher at Gockley Elementary School, discussed her experience with Inclusive Schools Week during a presentation to the board.

Ogozalek discovered Inclusive Schools Week, an annual event held the first week of December each year, while taking a graduate course. Sponsored by the Inclusive Schools Network, a web-based educational resource, and Stetson & Associates Inc., the week celebrates and supports diversity in schools.

Gockley Elementary School administration and staff began planning how to celebrate the week.

“With the help of our librarian assistant, we went through all of the books in the library and found books about kindness, acceptance and diversity to teach those skills to our younger kids,” Ogozalek said. “We’re teaching them ways to interact with each other and to accept everyone.”

Using books such as “The Kindness Quilt,” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, Ogozalek and other teachers planned crafts and activities to further students’ understanding of the importance of what they learned.

“Teachers were making a point and acknowledging and modeling the acts of kindness. All the students took a pledge to be an inclusive school, and they all had fun completing the activities and projects,” Ogozalek said.

During the public participation segment of the meeting, Ashleigh Strange, regional organizer for Lehigh Valley Stands Up, asked if the board could discuss the school district’s safety and security meetings with regard to a recent incident at a high school basketball game.

Four juveniles were removed from a Whitehall High School basketball game Jan. 28 after repeated requests they leave the school for being “disruptive.”

When they refused to leave, police from Whitehall and surrounding municipalities were called to assist.

The students were charged Jan. 29 in Lehigh County juvenile court with numerous offenses, including inciting a riot — a felony. According to reports, the juveniles have also been charged with defiant trespass, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of the administration of the law, all misdemeanors, and are under house arrest.

“We are allowed to have executive sessions for safety and security, as well as student discipline issues, and we are not going to be discussing those issues publicly,” said Jeffrey Sultanik, Whitehall-Coplay School District attorney.

Strange asked about the protocol for an incident like that and the presence of Whitehall Township police instead of school resource officers at the basketball game.

“If a student is experiencing distress in the school, I would hope that there would be a counselor that was called first instead of a bunch of police officers — all Whitehall officers — reporting to the scene,” Strange said.

“I’m glad to hear that you all are discussing safety and security. Can you discuss at all how school resource officers are trained or if there will be retraining in order to make sure that the school works inclusively with everyone?” she asked.

According to WCSD Superintendent Dr. Lorie Hackett, the district regularly employs Whitehall Township police officers for school sports events.

“Our school resource officer sometimes is that person who is employed that evening. But that evening, our school resource officers — we have two of them — neither of them were employed,” Hackett said.

Strange said the students involved in the incident at the basketball game were scheduled to be back in Lehigh County court Feb. 12.

“I’d just like to encourage you all to stand with the students, especially as they’re going through a really scary time, and to show up for them in court at the Lehigh County Courthouse,” she told board members.

In other news, Hackett thanked Georges Makhoul for his donation toward the forgiveness of student lunch debt for district families in need, as well as Macy’s department store, for a donation to Steckel Elementary School.

Committee meetings on education/student activities, operations/transportation and finance/personnel will be held 4 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 23.

The next school board meeting is 7 p.m. March 9.