The sudden resignation of longtime Blaine County School District board of trustees Chairman Paul Bates engendered a compassionate and wistful response at a regular meeting of the board this week and reinforced a call to raise the consequences of underage drinking through a “social hosting ordinance.”
At the Blaine County School District office Tuesday night, board members said that many tears had been shed over the situation and that Bates deserved recognition for his contributions, not for what caused his departure.
Last Friday, Bates was confronted with allegations that minors consumed alcohol at a party held at his mid-valley home by his daughter on New Year’s Eve. He said he went to bed early as the party carried on.
“I take ownership of that night,” he said in his resignation letter, which Trustee Shawn Bennion, who has assumed Bates’ role as chairman, read aloud Tuesday. “I am deeply saddened and I apologize.”
Bates offered to resign immediately, but the board, weighing his five years of contributions against his admittedly poor decision that holiday night, took the weekend to consider the best course of action before agreeing.
Trustee Kathy Baker, who outlined the timeline of the decision, said the trustees take the voluntary spot on the board knowing their decisions impact the students, parents and community. Bates was elected to the board in 2009. He is a self-employed woodworker and has lived in the Wood River Valley since 1973. He has two children, Maddie and Eron, who have attended Blaine County schools. He served as vice-president of the Wood River Middle School PTA for two years.
The school board has five elected members serving a four-year term from five separate zones that represent the communities of the Wood River Valley. The board has power over most every school matter, from protecting the health and well-being of the students and teachers to voting on expulsions and approving the district’s budget.
Baker called Bates’ response to the situation “honorable,” adding, “I have great respect for him.”
Trustee Liz Schwerdtle praised Bates for “teaching us so much,” and for making listening to all sides a priority. Trustee Kathryn Graves said it is “a sad day for me,” that doesn’t reflect his “hard work and dedication.”
Bennion said many tears were “shed by all” and that Bates was worried about what was “best for our students and for the district.”
“We have crafted a very solid ordinance,” designed to make “a very successful statement.”
Hailey Elementary School principal
The topic segued smoothly to a presentation by Hailey Elementary School Principal Tom Bailey, who serves as president of the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition advocacy group. The coalition’s mission since 2007 has been to “improve the health and safety of the community by decreasing alcohol and other drug use among our youth.”
Bailey provided an overview of programs aimed at student and community awareness-raising in the coming weeks, some that have been in motion for months, others hatched in response to the recent death of student Lane Coulthard.
The coalition has been working with law enforcement and lawyers to draft Blaine County’s first-ever social hosting ordinance, which widely interpreted is a law that would impose liability against individuals responsible for underage drinking events on property they own, lease or otherwise control.
While not getting into the particulars of the ordinance yet, Bailey said, “We have crafted a very solid ordinance,” designed to make “a very successful statement.”
“We are not here to judge what you do with your own child in your own home,” but want parents to be able to say “not with my child.”
Bailey also asked for the board’s support in advertising a free, private, random drug test to be paid for by the coalition, the results of which would only be known to parent, child and tester. Any child in the district can have his and her name added to the testing pot, which pulls from a hat those to be tested each month.
Rather than a punitive measure, Bailey said the program “gives kids an out” in social situations because they can decline to partake in illicit activity while blaming the possibility of being tested.
Former Blaine County School District Superintendent Lonnie Barber spoke during a public comment period. He called the timing of Bailey’s comments and Bates’ situation “ironic and a little bit sad.” Bennion cautioned him to refrain from personal attacks on Bates before letting him continue, but Barber ended with a parting shot, noting that one of the boards’ duties is to ensure healthy behaviors.
“That should start with the board of trustee leadership,” he said.
Barber—who has a 14-year-old daughter in the district—left his position last fall after he and the board negotiated a termination agreement, based primarily on what was called a “difference in philosophy.”
Valley resident Ellen Mandeville countered that Barber’s comments were akin to “kicking a man while he was down,” after that man chose to “take the high road.”
She said the concept of social hosting, in which adults allow experimentation under their watch, “was seen as the lesser of two evils,” that wiser minds have now seen “simply exacerbated the challenge.” Mandeville encouraged the community to support the district’s attempt to respond to the changing climate.
Sitting Superintendent John Blackman praised Bates as a friend and supporter, noting that, “I’ve lost more students than I care to mention to a myriad of reasons.”
The board gave unanimous support to alerting the public to the coalition’s offer. The coalition is a nonprofit entity separate from the School District, but has an office at the Community Campus in Hailey.
Hear and be heard
- The Crisis Hotline is hosting discussions called “Community Conversations” Thursdays at 6 p.m. at Zaney’s coffeehouse in Hailey. For more information, call 788-0735.
- On Wednesday, Jan. 29, there will be a student assembly helmed by the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition called “i2i” at the Community Campus gym about breaking down walls and connecting with peers and adults. The assembly will target freshmen at Wood River and Silver Creek high schools. Email Stephanie at email@example.com. (There will be a similar assembly on Jan. 30, for the community.)