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ABCs of back to school

Virginia Hildebrand, 5, smiles Friday  while wearing a new dress and being photographed  by her kindergarten teacher at Deer Park Elementary School. 
 (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Virginia Hildebrand, 5, smiles Friday while wearing a new dress and being photographed by her kindergarten teacher at Deer Park Elementary School. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

With summer vacation drawing to a close, Shawna Gundlach and her three daughters enjoyed Monday afternoon at Tubbs Hill.

The prospect of replacing such outings with afternoons spent behind a desk doesn’t bother Brianne Gundlach, 7, who will attend Coeur d’Alene’s new Sorensen Magnet School. She knows school isn’t all books.

“I’m really looking forward to gym,” she said. “We get to do hula hoop.”

For parents, though, the start of school isn’t fun and games. There are supplies to buy, shots to arrange, bus schedules to memorize. It can be daunting, particularly if your child is a new student or new to a school.

We can’t answer every question, but here are some tips to get the school year off to a good start:

What will my student need on the first day of school? Where can I find supply lists?

Supply lists can be found on school Web sites or at the district and school offices. Students are encouraged to have their supplies by the end of the first week of school.

Where do I find rules/codes of conduct?

Most policy manuals are on the Web. Handbooks are available at the school or district office. Teachers, counselors and principals go over rules during the first week, and students and parents are sometimes required to sign a contract agreeing to abide by them. Washington schools are required by law to go over student rights and responsibilities.

Why do some schools start earlier than others?

“It’s a way for us to ease kids back into school by starting with a three-day weekend,” said Mick Miller, superintendent at Deer Park, where classes start Wednesday.

Most schools head back after Labor Day, a tradition that started with farming communities where children helped with harvest.

Washington law requires 180 class days a year, state officials said. Required class time in Idaho is 810 hours for first- through third-graders, 900 hours for fourth- through eighth-graders; and 990 hours for high school students.

How can I keep track of my child’s grades, school work, and school-related activities?

“We urge parents to read things that come home with students; read the parent newsletters,” said Kristy Mylroie, a community relations specialist with Spokane Public Schools.

Some schools offer grade information online, and parents are encouraged to talk frequently with their children about assignments and contact the school with concerns.

“We want them (parents) to be involved in what their kids are doing at school,” said Jeff Bengtson, principal at Canfield Middle School in Coeur d’Alene. “Don’t wait ‘til the first round of conferences if there’s a problem.”

When are parent-teacher conferences?

They’re typically held twice each year; before Thanksgiving and spring break.

Can I send Tylenol to school with my child?

Most schools require parents to notify office staff or a nurse when they bring medication to school, even cough drops. Spokane Public Schools requires a note from parents with contact information for a doctor, and allows students to carry only one day’s dose.

“We don’t want large supplies of medication at school that can get into the wrong hands,” said Kathy Reed-McKay, health services coordinator for Spokane schools.

Can my child bring an iPod or cell phone to school?

Some schools ban electronic devices on campus, and most require that they’re turned off and stored during class.

“They’ve become too much of a distraction,” said Chris Hammons, principal of Lakes Middle School in Coeur d’Alene.

Schools prefer parents call the school office to talk to their children.

Where can I find bus route information?

Most bus routes are available online or by calling the school district.

What immunizations are required?

Idaho and Washington require all students to have proof of immunizations for the following:

• diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)

• polio

• measles, mumps, rubella

• Hepatitis B (for children born after Nov. 22, 1991)

This year, Washington sixth-graders must have a tetanus booster.

When will statewide tests, such as the ISAT, be given?

All Idaho K-3 students take the Idaho Reading Indicator assessment test three times a year: in September, in January, and from April 15 to May 15.

The Idaho Standards Achievement Test (for grades 2-10) is taken twice a year: from Sept. 17 to Oct. 26, and April 14 to May 9.

The Idaho students’ Direct Writing Assessment (for grades 5, 7, 9) is taken Nov. 28.

Finally, the Direct Math Assessment (for grades 4, 6, 8) is given Nov. 29.

Where can I find information about school lunch?

It’s available on district Web sites and in school newsletters.

Applications for free or reduced-price meals can be completed at any time, and are available in school offices. Some districts mail the information. This year, the Washington Legislature approved funding for free breakfast and lunch for all kindergarten through third-grade students who qualify for reduced-price meals.

Districts recommend that students with food allergies bring lunch from home.

Can my child bring a snack to school?

Most schools prohibit eating in class.

Where can I find the dress code?

In a district’s policy manual or a school’s student handbook. Most districts prohibit drug-related clothing and underwear from showing and ban spaghetti-strap tank and halter tops.

Many schools have their own, more specific and often stricter policies. Lake City High in Coeur d’Alene, for instance, requires skirts “to be at least as long as the tip of the students’ fingers when hands rest at their sides.”

Coeur d’Alene’s three middle schools – Lakes, Woodland and Canfield – prohibit tank tops.

What are the attendance rules?

Idaho law requires children between the ages of 7 and 16 to attend school unless they’re home-schooled. Parents should notify the school if their child will be absent.

In Coeur d’Alene, schools will contact parents or visit a student’s home before sending an attendance case to the school board, board clerk Lynn Towne said.

What if a parent hears rumors that a kid at school is doing something illegal, like selling drugs, or something dangerous, like threatening suicide?

Parents should contact school staff immediately with those concerns, and students are encouraged to notify an adult immediately.

The Mead School District in Spokane County has an incident hotline so students can leave anonymous tips, said Superintendent Tom Rockefeller.

What if my child is being bullied or harassed?

Most districts have an anti-bullying and -harassment curriculum and spend several weeks discussing the topic. “We take a really hard line with any kind of bullying and harassment,” said Linda Delaney, a counselor at Spokane’s Sacajawea Middle School. “We encourage the student to report it to an adult immediately.”


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