Petersburg Pilot -

School Board creates memorial policy

 


The Petersburg School Board voted in its first reading a district memorial policy last week—the lack of which caused some confusion and conflict between district staff and members of the public two years ago.

The policy would, in part, limit the display of student memorials for a two-week period.

Petersburg School District Superintendent Erika Kludt-Painter said her predecessor, along with district staff, removed a memorial to Jake Madsen, a Petersburg High School student athlete who died in a gun accident in 2008, without communication with his family.

“Then, of course, there were some hard feelings so at that point the decision was made by the superintendent and the school board president to put it back up,” Kludt-Painter said. “The recommendation at that time by the superintendent was to begin doing some actual research, because there wasn’t a memorial policy in place.”

Shannon Peeler, Madsen’s aunt, requested at the School Board meeting they vote to grandfather his memorial in, and let it remain in the gym. She said his memorial was presented to his family, friends and the community during a basketball game by his teammates and coaches. She didn’t understood why his memorial was being seen in a negative light.

“Jake was a great kid whose teammates and coaches wanted to honor his memory in a memorial to him,” Peeler said. “They made it from a place in their hearts. A memorial is described as something honoring a person or event. Honor is to show regard for. Regard is to respect. So by taking down Jake’s memorial it feels like a form of disrespect.”

School Board member Mara Lutomski responded later in the meeting that she feels bad if family members feel they were disrespecting any previous memorials placed within the schools.

“We did have conversations with family members regarding what we may or may not do with the memorials and how our policy would be shaped,” Lutomski said. “I know that for everyone on the board it’s an uncomfortable situation. We’re not trying to be heartless. We’re just trying to protect current and future students.”

In a separate interview, Kludt-Painter recognized the initial removal of Madsen’s memorial two years ago was done without proper communication, and that the current policy would prevent similar circumstances.

“It’s a sensitive, difficult topic trying to separate the policy work from trying to look at what’s currently in the buildings,” Kludt-Painter said of creating a memorial policy.

She said the board consulted with mental health professionals and other schools around the state and ultimately decided displaying a memorial indefinitely does not serve the purposes of the school.

“That’s really the crux of the point of the policy itself, to try and think about all those possibilities and really it’s not the school’s primary focus,” Kludt-Painter said. “It shouldn’t be about memorializing our students or staff. It’s a place of learning. We don’t want to be disrespectful but that is the primary function.”

She said if Petersburg schools were going to be a place of permanent sites for passed students or staff, it would have to encompass and create space for all past tragedies.

“Unfortunately. we’ve lost some other great kids in our community and I think we have to be sensitive to that, too, if the school becomes a place where we are going to conduct memorials or remembrances in that way or become a primary site for that,” Kludt-Painter said. “I think we have to then somehow look at all of those losses over the years. I don’t know where you’d stop with that.”

Memorial activities that can extend beyond two weeks, according to the policy include contributions to or the creation of a scholarship fund or donations to the deceased member’s family among others.

A memorial to a former teacher at the Rae C Stedman Elementary, along with Madsen’s memorial will be taken down pending School Board approval of the current draft policy.

According to the policy, “Memorials for adults that demonstrated exceptional service to their country and/or community may be displayed, as determined by the Superintendent or their designee.”

Existing school buildings and facilities named in honor of school or community members, along with accompanying images or plaques will remain. Naming of facilities and buildings require School Board action and are meant to include persons living or deceased who “Served in the Petersburg School District, who have made significant contributions to the district through longevity of service, exemplary leadership, philanthropic contributions or other significant means,” according to an accompanying draft policy regarding naming schools and facilities.

The full draft memorial policies can be obtained in the PSD District office.

The School Board will vote again for a final approval of both policies it its meeting next month.

 

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