Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


By CVN Staff 

Push on to resume driving class


March 31, 2011

Should the Haines School revive driver’s education class as an elective?

The idea – supported by several staffers, students, and school board members – has been discussed for years and may be gaining momentum.

The program was offered in the local school into the 1980s, but was dropped later, possibly due to the retirement of instructor Roger Vlasak.

Supporters say there are good reasons to bring it back. Leigh Horner, a parent who also works in the school library, is pushing the change. Besides helping families secure lower insurance rates, knowing how to drive is a life skill, Horner said.

"Our kids are at an incredible disadvantage. When they get to Bellingham, they get on the freeway and they’ve never seen a traffic light," she said. "Plus, we’d have safer drivers on the roads around here and that would benefit the whole community."

Horner recently secured a grant for the school library to receive a free "Driving Success" computer through the American Automobile Association and will soon receive traffic safety materials. A five-hour course is all that’s required to teach driver’s education, Horner said, and a district teacher has expressed interest in teaching it.

"I don’t use algebra every day, but I do drive. It’s the most valuable class I took in high school," Horner said.

school board member Sarah Swinton said driving, like cooking and other life skills electives, is important. "Kids don’t get a lot of experience driving here… Any more education they can get is a good thing."

Member Sean Cone said he has concerns on how much the program will add to the school’s insurance cost and said he isn’t sure the school van should be the vehicle used for student training.

Parent Mark Zeiger wrote the school board last year, advocating the change as a "logical addition" to offerings and saying the course’s benefits would "reach far beyond our students."

Superintendent Michael Byer said the course would be a "great thing" but is apprehensive about adding offerings due to an uncertain funding picture. He hasn’t gotten direction from the school board on the issue, and hasn’t worked up costs, but said he’d rather address such proposed additions to the school budget after the district knows how much money it’s getting from the state and borough, and how much a new contract with teachers will cost.

"I wouldn’t advocate holding us to something that could blow up on us," Byer said. Postponing such commitments "would be the prudent and responsible thing to do."

The last round of contract negotiations continued into August. If that timetable repeats itself, a district decision on proposed new programs like driver’s education may not happen until the fall.