Support for homeless teens hits a snag at board meeting

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A few years back former high school counselor Doug Cordier and a host of other community members got together to raise funds for homeless teens in the Columbia Falls areas.

Homelessness among teens is a persistent problem in the high school. In some years as many as 70 students have been classified as homeless. They’re not necessarily living out on the street — more than a few “couch surf” from friend to friend’s home — but they don’t have much, if any, parental support.

Having said that, most of the students are just trying to get ahead and while getting away from a bad family life, whether it be neglectful parents, drug and alcohol abuse, or some other challenge at home.

“Most of these kids are successful,” Cordier told the School District 6 Board Monday night.

So Cordier and former retired Superintendent Mike Nicosia formed a group called the Child Assistance Team, which included support from local churches and other civic organizations.

They considered a homeless shelter in Columbia Falls, like what Sparrow’s Nest is running in Whitefish, but it was too expensive for now — about $250,000 a year just to operate.

Instead, they decided to raise funds to support the students — basics like toiletries and food. Some need gas money to get to work, Cordier explained.

The group was hoping to go under the umbrella of the school district, Cordier proposed. In short, the district would oversee the account and group would raise the funds, without having to pay liability insurance on its own.

The insurance costs about $600 a year and would be better spent on students, Cordier surmised.

But that’s where it hit a snag. According to vice chair Dean Chisholm, who is also an attorney, the school could open itself to lawsuits if it simply took over the account, because it has no control over the Child Assistance Team or its fundraisers. In short, Chisholm suggested, the Child Assistance Team would have to disband and then reunite as a new school board approved entity to continue its work.

That didn’t seem like much of a solution, but it was a symptom of the litigious nature of today’s society.

In the end, the board took no action and suggested that the Child Assistance Team might have to form its own non-profit if it wanted to continue its work.

It seems that lending a helping hand is difficult without liability insurance.

In other board news:

• The board talked briefly about the proposed jail in Columbia Falls. The board took no action, saying that it didn’t really seem like the county had a firm plan in place for the facility.

• The board learned that schools staff and administrators went through two days of active shooter training. They had been on a waiting list for a couple of years. The training went well.

• Superintendent Steve Bradshaw publicly thanked Columbia Falls Police Chief Clint Peters and other law enforcement, school staff and school administrators for their response during the schools recent cyber attack. The board also learned that three other districts across the U.S. have also been victims of similar strikes. The FBI and local law enforcement continue to investigate the matter.

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