School Board approves absences related to hockey academy

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The Whitefish School Board on Feb. 6 approved a request for recognition for hockey academy training during the school day allowing students to miss class for training.

The North American Preparatory Hockey Academy, a development program for hockey players in northern Montana and Canada, hosts its midday lessons at Stumptown Ice Den and is classified as a non-school sponsored activity.

The board voted 5-1 to approve the request, with Trustee Marguerite Kaminski opposing.

Cody McCarthy, the academy’s academic monitor, said the program has been running for a year and a half now and requires school hours for lessons because the ice den’s schedule is constantly full the rest of the day.

“They’re looking at providing an opportunity for our hockey players, some ice time that is very difficult to achieve through the day,” she said.

As part of the request, the academy will still require students to complete all seven periods of the school day and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Students will work with Bonnie Brown, a private tutor, to help with makeup work for any class time missed.

Right now the academy works with about 25 total students, McCarthy said, in a mix of mostly middle school students with some high school and elementary school students as well.

A hockey academy in Whitefish is a way to get athletes up to speed with players from other locations that might be more hockey-focused, McCarthy said.

“It has been very positive with the kids that are involved in it, and it’s been growing. It’s been a good way for our kids to catch up in hockey. We’re kind of in a small corner here in Whitefish, and our kids are somewhat behind when you go out to the bigger cities.”

Jami James, president and hockey director, is the on-ice instructor for the academy.

Kaminski made a motion to approve recognizing the academy and allowing students to get on the ice during school time, but only for a single semester. After that, she wanted the board to revisit the issue and review how well the program is working at that point.

However, the motion failed 2-4, with Trustee Ruth Harrison supporting Kaminski’s motion.

After some discussion, Trustee Katie Clarke made another motion to approve the program without a time limit. That motion passed 5-1, with Kaminski opposing.

Trustee Anna Deese said the program offered an opportunity for students to focus in on their strengths, and it was fair to support that. Likewise, the board shouldn’t scrutinize this program more than for others they’ve supported in the past.

“I think the idea of this is to be flexible, to allow students to dive deep, and when we look at our goals, we want them to be personalized and become exceptional in the areas where they have strengths,” she said.

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