BRITT | For the past three months, the West Hancock School Board has been considering whether it should change the district’s Sunday use of facilities and equipment policy.

But after lengthy discussions — sometimes heated — between school board members, coaches and staff during its monthly meetings in October and November, the school board has proposed keeping it the same.

“Jay and I talked, we thought the original one was still fine as long as we follow through with what it says,” said school board member Jon Harle, who was on a committee with Jay Burgardt to review the policy.

Currently, the district’s policy — approved in 1995 and reviewed in 2015 — states: “Generally, the school district facilities will not be used for student activities on Sundays. It shall be within the discretion of the superintendent to allow student activities on Sundays such as, but not limited to, an open gym. An open gym would mean that there would be no organized practice and no guarantee of supervision by the head coach of any given team. An exception to this general rule would be organized practices called for the Sunday before a scheduled Monday tournament or playoff event. However, such Sunday practices cannot be mandatory and allowances must be made for students with religious or family conflicts.”

In September, Superintendent Wayne Kronemann told the school board that the local ministerial group raised concerns about a growing number of student activities conflicting with church happenings.

And within the past two months, the conversation at the school board meeting has expanded to include public concerns about coaches hosting open gym solely for their athletes, which is not allowed under the policy.

“I don’t know if you could have the two conversations separately because they are intertwined because there are coaches attending Sunday’s open facilities,” Kronemann said.

On Monday, Nov. 20, the school board defined “open gym,” “supervisor” and determined how such activities should be communicated to the public.

School board member Angie Johnson classified open gym as “anybody in the public can come” to use the facility.

But Kronemann said under the current policy and current practices, open gym has become “more concentrated” on individual sports teams organized and supervised by the coaches of those teams.

Paul Sonius, West Hancock head girls’ basketball coach, said he supervises open gym for “his girls” on Sundays, but he doesn’t coach. Instead, he said he watches football on his mobile device.

“It’s hard because since you’re there, do people feel like you’re coaching even though you’re not?” Johnson said. “You might just be a bystander sitting there ... but if coach is there, then people think he was there coaching.”

Sonius said he isn’t opposed to allowing others to attend the open gym while his athletes are there, noting occurrences when softball pitching and catching were done simultaneously.

The Rev. Willie Rosin, pastor at First Lutheran Church in Britt, who attended the school board meeting, said his main concern is public perception.

“I love hearing you talk Mr. Sonius that you’re there, there isn’t a practice going on, you’re not running drills, there’s no penalty for not being there at open gym because the public perception that I’ve picked up is that while that may be the reality, the perception is that if I don’t come to open gym whenever that is, there will be a penalty, whether it’s formal or not,” he said. “That’s a public perception, but whether it’s a reality and actually happening is a different matter.”

Rosin asked the school board and district how it planned on addressing the public perception of what open gym is on Sundays.

“There always will be perceptions,” Sonius said. “You can sit here and say there are these perceptions, but what about the kids that want to come in and shoot on those Sunday events?”

School board member Todd Hammer said the conversation would be different if the community had a YMCA or a recreation center, but because it doesn’t, the district needs to improvise.

“This is what helps small towns and small communities is improvising,” he said.

The school board asked Kronemann to add the following to its policy for a second reading on Dec. 18: “Open gym must be published by school email, social media, announcements, posters and other means that would reach all families and students grades 7-12. If grades Pk-6 want to attend, then they must be accompanied by an adult. Open gym, by rule, cannot be mandatory, nor be sport specific.”

Kronemann said non-school affiliated athletic teams, like traveling basketball, usually have practice on Sunday afternoons and evenings because that’s the only time the facilities are available.

“It’s very difficult to schedule during the weekday because of the high school sports going on and junior high sports going on,” he said.

A supervisor, Kronemann said, must be a school staff member or a board-approved volunteer, and open gyms and other use of the district’s facilities must go through the building and grounds director, Stacy Goepel.

The school board will meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, at the West Hancock Middle School in Kanawha.

Also during the Nov. 20 meeting, the school board:

  • Accepted resignations of head junior high volleyball coach Caitlyn Huffman, head junior high football coach Shawn Mallen and West Hancock High School volleyball coach Graham Chris Martin from their positions.
  • Set a public hearing for 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, at the West Hancock Middle School in Kanawha to discuss the 2018-19 school calendar.
  • Committed $20,000 from its Public Education and Recreation Levy, or PERL, fund, which can only be used to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds within the district, to the Lions Park Playground project. Representatives from the Lions Park Playground Committee Jen Weiland and Bonnie Hiscocks spoke to the school board about the project and fundraising. The committee has raised nearly $80,000 and hopes to complete the project next summer.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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