• For the Record

  • Mountainside Middle School Incident: Safety and Security Meeting Recap

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 1/29/2024

    Here is a summary of the Mountainside Middle School meeting held Friday, January 26th. We appreciate all the parents, staff, district leadership and Scottsdale Police who were in attendance. It was a great demonstration of our strong community and its shared commitment to keeping our schools safe.

    • On Thursday, January 25th, a teacher reported a gun in a classroom, prompting the School Resource Officer (SRO) to quickly secure the area and initiate a lockdown.  Eighth grade students in their classes stayed in their classes.  Sixth and seventh graders who were at lunch, were led to the gym.
    • SUSD and SPD have recently enabled police officers with city ID’s to access schools during a lockdown.  This is the first time the enhanced approach to policing was actually put to use. As such, responding officers were able to immediately gain access to the school saving time.
    • The lockdown, lasting three hours, involved extensive efforts to determine the origin of the gun, identify the responsible party, and address potential threats.  The police worked through the night, conducting interviews, ultimately making an arrest around 1 a.m.  The ongoing investigation requires further steps, including search warrants and additional interviews, before formal charges can be brought. The priority remains ensuring the safety of students, and any new information will be addressed as the investigation progresses.
    • Lockdown drills are required three times a year. We are not experts at carrying out the real thing because thankfully we don’t have a lot of lockdowns in our district.  Each time, we learn lessons and continue to get better at our response and communication.
    • Two command posts were established—one at the school and another elsewhere in the district, involving district leadership and the Scottsdale Police.  Collaboration between SUSD and the police ensures coordinated communication, prioritizing parents and staff with accurate and regular updates.   Additionally, the information flow extends to other district leaders to equip them with the knowledge necessary for addressing questions or concerns from various stakeholders.
    • A major challenge is the prevalence of misinformation on social media.  Factual information will come from SUSD and SPD.  Suspicions should be shared with police or administrators, not on social media.  Our first priority is the safety of the students and staff on campus, preserving investigative integrity and communications with families.
    • There was a proliferation of false charges on social media.  Parents are urged not to contribute to misinformation and are reassured that the student wrongly associated with the incident had no involvement.  
    • There was uncertainty about the duration of the situation, prompting the preparation of a team at a different school to accommodate the potential need for student/guardian reunification.  The initial plan was to implement a reunification process, a nationwide procedure where parents/guardians fill out forms, verify their identity, and reunite with their children.  This entire process can take several hours.  It was unnecessary because, as the dismissal time approached, in consultation with the police department and district personnel, a decision was made to delay the dismissal, and avoid the potential complications and additional stress for families with a reunification process.  The messaging might have seemed confusing due to these considerations, but the delay was implemented to ensure a smoother and more organized release.  Our messaging was never meant to mislead but rather reflected what we knew when we knew it.  Lessons learned: We recognize a need to better communicate with the students as there was some confusion with what to do and where to go in a delayed release.  
    • Police did not yet have an arrest at the time of the release but also did not have a reason to continue to hold students back.  The gun was secured and there was no known threat.  Releasing students to their parents is what led to conversations and additional investigative leads ultimately resulting in an arrest.
    • Some students at lunch brought backpacks with them to the gym.  A better option would have been for those to be left in the cafeteria.  Students in the gym were not all searched because police were able to narrow their investigation to those students who were in the classroom where the gun was found.
    • SPD did have two dogs on campus to assist with their search/investigation.
    • SPD will work with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to determine charges as well as any culpability for the owner of the firearm.  Police can confirm there was no intent to harm and no criminal intent, and the family is cooperating. They also confirmed the student who found it brought it.
    • The Student Code of Conduct outlines potential discipline.  SUSD will conduct its own threat assessment and investigation.  The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the student’s privacy.  The district will not identify the student or share the resulting discipline.  Every student is entitled to due process.  Appropriate discipline will be applied after considering all relevant factors and gathering all the necessary facts.  Any recommendation for expulsion goes to an impartial hearing officer who makes a recommendation to the Governing Board.  The parents can appeal the hearing officer’s recommendation. Ultimately the Governing Board votes to expel or not. In accordance with Governing Board Policy  JICI Weapons in School and JKE Expulsion of Students.
    • Cell phones are supposed to be “away for the day” at school.  However, this is something we will be reviewing as there was not consistent enforcement of this during this incident and we recognize the value of students being able to communicate with their parent/guardian during an emergency to confirm they are safe.
    • The primary goal of a lockdown is to maintain a quiet and controlled environment when there is a perceived threat.  However, once it is determined that there is no active threat and the situation is under control, they transition to a "shelter in place" protocol.  This approach allows students to resume their activities in a more relaxed manner, avoiding the need for prolonged hiding.  The aim is to provide a space where students can feel more comfortable, receive guidance, and shift their focus back to normalcy.  This transitional period is another opportunity for improvement, ensuring that students and teachers are well-informed about the situation during this phase.
    • Crisis counselors from the district were available to talk to students and will be back next week. The school staff, along with the Director of Student Services, met to discuss messaging and strategies for helping students process the event.  They emphasize the importance of addressing the emotional impact on students and providing a supportive environment for them to express their feelings.  Additional security, and police officers were also present on campus Friday.
    • The district is always evaluating opportunities to enhance school safety. It starts first with reinforcing the basic fundamentals of DIG-IT (Lock Doors, Wear IDs, Lock Gates and IT - keep computer passwords safe). Other ideas like clear backpacks, no backpacks (going back to lockers) and metal detectors are also ideas that have been considered.  With 29 schools and many points of entry there is the question of feasibility as well as effectiveness.  The challenge lies in striking a balance between security and a welcoming learning environment.  Parents, students and staff are encouraged to be vigilant and "See Something, Say Something,” especially regarding social media where students might come across concerning information.  The goal is to foster an environment where students feel safe and empowered to report potential threats.

     

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  • Statement: Lawsuit Settlement in Wray, et al. v. Greenburg, et al., Case No. 2:22-cv-00859DWL

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 12/15/2023

    The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-0 on December 12th to accept the terms of the settlement reached by both parties. Two members abstained.

    Plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the District in May 2022.  Plaintiffs initiated settlement discussions with the District shortly before Plaintiffs’ depositions were scheduled to commence.  The settlement agreement settles that lawsuit without an admission of liability and once the court accepts this settlement, the allegations will be dismissed with prejudice (without the ability to refile).

    Key points of settlement:

    No Admission of Liability: This settlement is a resolution aimed at avoiding the continued expenses tied to prolonged legal proceedings.

    Insurance Coverage: The parties have agreed to a settlement amount in lieu of incurring additional legal fees.  The decision is based on what is deemed reasonable and financially responsible for the District.  The District’s portion of the settlement is $25,000, which will be paid by insurance, not from the District's Maintenance & Operations budget.  The settlement amount is substantially less than the costs to the District and to its insurer of continuing to litigate the lawsuit. 

    Individual Legal Expenses: Each party is responsible for its own legal expenses.

    In sum, all parties involved have collectively decided to settle, recognizing the benefits of reaching a resolution without further legal proceedings.

    SUSD is committed to transparency and being good financial stewards of district resources.  This settlement allows both parties to move forward and the district to remain focused on providing world-class, future-focused education for all.

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  • Response to Concerns Related to Student Clubs and Reaffirming District Support for Safe School Environments

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 11/14/2023

    We’d like to address the concern in the community that arose following a joint meeting of two student clubs, UNICEF and Amnesty International.

    We want to make it unequivocally clear that Scottsdale Unified School District stands firmly against Antisemitism and Islamophobia both of which are on the rise, especially in the backdrop of the current Israel Hamas war.

    We stand firmly against any action that involves hate speech, and anything that diminishes the dignity of any human being based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or any other factors.We are committed to ensuring that every student feels seen, heard, and valued for who they are.

    We are actively engaged in an "after-action review" to identify what happened, what could have been handled differently, and what safeguards can be implemented to address club content that may disrupt the learning environment

    This experience serves as an opportunity to reflect on our practices and make improvements. Additionally, clubs with links to outside organizations are subject to greater review by theschool.  It's also a chance to help students recognize the unintended consequences of their actions. For the record, no one in either club intended to hurt anyone.

    Federal law and Governing Board Policy is clear on this issue:

    • ​Law of clubs
      The District must apply the law evenly to all students, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, ancestry, genetic information, in its programs or activities (Policy AC).

    • Clubs are student-driven.
      Student clubs and club meetings are governed by board policy and law.  Policy JJAB states that all meetings shall be “student initiated and open to all students in the school.”  Non-school persons shall not “be permitted to direct, conduct, control or regularly attend such student group meetings.”

    • Club sponsors are guides, not decision-makers.
      The student activities club sponsor handbook further guides club activity.  Specifically, the club sponsor role is “not to make decisions for the club but to provide information, counsel on outcomes, implement decisions, and ensure compliance with District procedures.”

    • Federal law prohibits the denial of equal access to groups based on religious or political positions.
      The Equal Access Act provides: (a) It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings (Sec. 802).

    • SUSD has created a limited open forum that governs club activity.
      Because the district has created a limited open forum (see Policy JJAB) district rules that apply to those forums must be viewpoint neutral.  Administrators may regulate speech to maintain order and discipline on school premises and to protect the well-being of students and faculty but cannot regulate speech based on viewpoint.  

    It is important to note that high school club participation is always optional, and club meetings are designed to provide students with a safe space to connect with like-minded peers while being inclusive of all. These clubs are driven by student interests, and our staff sponsors are there to supervise students during the meetings, as well as to help students navigate sometimes complex subjects and discussions in a civil and respectful fashion.

    Because of the law outlined, the district would be violating its limited open forum rules if it were to disband the UNICEF and Amnesty International clubs or preclude students from meeting and presenting in their limited open forum.  The district oversees the activity to prevent disruption to the educational environment but does not regulate the viewpoints of the student club members.

    A version of the slide show to be used at the joint club meeting circulated on social media in advance of the meeting raised concerns.  When DMHS administration was alerted to these concerns, efforts were taken to work with the sponsors to address them. However, in many minds, the effort fell short.

    The Desert Mountain High School Principal has been communicating with students, parents and community leaders every step of the way. 

    Club Meeting Concerns – Thursday, November 2nd
    Update on Club Meeting Concerns – Friday, November 3rd
    There is no student “walk out” – Wednesday, November 8th

    We appreciate the parents and students who have engaged in conversation and brought concerns to our attention so we can act. The safety and security of our students, school, and community is a shared responsibility and we appreciate your partnership. 

    We remain committed to fostering a learning environment that values diversity and ensures that all students can engage in constructive dialogue and respectful discourse.  

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  • Student Club Guest Speaker

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 10/18/2023

    Our schools host a variety of student-initiated clubs that meet outside of class time, during lunch or after school. These clubs often invite guest speakers as part of their activities.

    We value the diversity of our student population and support their right to various opinions, beliefs, and interests as protected in the U.S. Constitution. Consistent with those rights, we do not regulate the viewpoints of student-initiated clubs.

    Recently, the Turning Point USA Club at Chaparral High School made plans to host a guest speaker on October 23rd, during lunch, from 12:45-1:20 p.m. This is not unusual for this club and others on the Chaparral campus.

    What made this request different is that the national Turning Point USA organization advertised the speaking engagement on its website as being part of a national tour, inviting non-students, and requiring tickets. We learned that adults not affiliated with the school were able to secure a ticket to the club’s meeting. We are not able to accommodate public events of that scale and magnitude during the school day. 

    After careful consideration and in light of these concerns, the speaking engagement has been canceled. Our mission is to educate students and teach them to think critically, while allowing them space to pursue additional shared interests and passions in a safe environment. While we support freedom of speech and expression, we must ensure the safety and well-being of our students and hosting a public event during the school day would compromise that commitment.

    Our high school and other facilities in the district are available to be rented for events outside of school hours. We have made that option available. Additionally, the club has offered to host this speaker in the future, assuming the speaker can agree to the same parameters as other guest speakers.

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  • Student ID Badges and Transportation

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 8/14/2023

    Safety is a top priority for the Scottsdale Unified School District. We are committed to putting your children first. That is true on school campuses, as well as on our school buses.

    The expectation is that all students and staff will wear their SUSD-issued ID each day. If a student loses or damages their ID card, they must report to the school office or high school bookstore for a replacement ID.  The Governing Board approved a $5 replacement fee.

    All student IDs have a barcode that is used to scan for meals in the cafeteria and to check out books in the library.

    This year, each student ID also has Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) capability. RFID is not a global positioning system (GPS) and has no tracking capability on its own. Like the RFID in your credit card and debit card, it only works when tapped. The district piloted this program last year and the Governing Board approved it.

    The RFID in student ID cards is ONLY scanned so that the district’s Transportation department is able to account for those students who board and exit a bus. This applies not only to those who ride the bus regularly to and from school, but also to those who attend field trips and athletic/extracurricular events. The RFID student ID will also be used in any emergency evacuation to assist with parent reunification. The RFID is used to ensure we have accounted for each child and is solely a safety measure implemented by the district.

    The RFID ID card system was purchased to work in conjunction with our Transportation routing system.  The transportation routing system allows parents to download an app that has the capability to track their student’s school bus, that their student boarded the bus, and the stop their student exited the bus.  Already during the first week of the new school year last week, the system proved invaluable and reassured several parents regarding their students’ whereabouts.

    RFID capability also exists in SUSD staff badges to provide building access.  

    FAQs

    How does the RFID capability work?
    The student IDs utilize passive RFID technology, which means the ID cards do not emit any signals unless one is near an RFID reader, typically within a range of 1-2 inches.  Within the district, the RFID readers are only installed on the buses to record when students board or exit the bus.  Each student scan is date/time stamped, and the encrypted data is wirelessly transmitted to the cloud.  It's important to note that the student ID card cannot be tracked once the student moves away from the onboard RFID scanner. The bus itself is tracked using GPS, and the student's location is only recorded when they board or disembark from the school bus.

    How is the solution secure?
    The RFID cards are encrypted and contain a unique ID number, which is associated with a specific student rider in the backend database.

    Will the Student IDs be used to track students? No, the student ID cards will not be used to track students within the school premises. While the cards have a passive RFID chip, there are no readers installed inside the school for the purpose of tracking a student's location.  The RFID reader will only be used on the school bus. It reads the student's ID card as the student boards or exits the bus, logging the time and location. This measure is in place to enhance student safety, particularly for younger students who might mistakenly disembark at the wrong stop.

    What information is stored on the student ID?
    The student ID card only stores a 40-bit card number. No personally identifiable information, such as ID number, name, grade, campus, or social security number, is stored on the card's RFID chip.

    Why is the District using RFID technology for bus ridership?
    RFID technology has been chosen because it offers efficiency in quickly boarding students onto buses without creating long lines or unnecessary delays. Compared to barcodes or magnetic strip technology, RFID provides greater security as each card has a unique identifier, rather than directly displaying the student's ID number. This enables the district to deactivate a student card if it is lost or if the student leaves the district.

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  • School Choice

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 8/14/2023

    Parent choice is not new.  SUSD strongly believes in school choice, and parents have long chosen the school that best meets their students’ needs.  As such, we offer various teaching and learning styles, including Traditional, Dual Language Immersion, International Baccalaureate and STEAM programs. 

    The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) is responsible for tracking the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), or school voucher, program.  The information provided by the ADE regarding SUSD is the total number of ESAs that have been awarded to students who reside within the district’s boundaries.  The vast majority of these students did not attend SUSD schools prior to 2020 and, most likely, have never attended SUSD schools.  SUSD enrollment has not declined by 7,700 since 2020, nor has it declined by 5,872 in the last year, as some have claimed.

    As of 2020, SUSD has declined in enrollment by 1,319 students, 804 of whom exited during the pandemic, when enrollment in public schools declined nationwide.  Our own exit survey data shows that at least 734 of those 1,319 students left to attend other public schools, charter schools, or online schools.

    Because of how the ADE data is presented it can be easily misunderstood.  What it confirms, however, is that thousands of students who reside within SUSD’s boundaries who were already attending private school are now receiving ESA state funding that helps offset their tuition.

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  • ParentSquare

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 7/21/2023

    During the fall of 2021, IT and Communications partnered to learn more about messaging options on the market because of growing dissatisfaction with SUSD’s current solution for mass communication. A larger strategy unfolded to determine how various non-centralized tools could be eliminated to improve communication with families, support a broader range of home languages, provide support for staff, and provide messaging data to help staff enhance communication with families.

    After reviewing what was available and receiving feedback from users of other communication platforms in use in SUSD, ParentSquare emerged as a tool that could replace several others and also provide a more intuitive user-interface for staff and parents, with parents at the heart of the platform’s design and approach.

    ParentSquare was procured using a S.A.V.E. (Strategic Alliance for Volume Expenditures) Cooperative Purchasing contract. S.A.V.E. is a consortium of Arizona local government agencies that work together to make major purchases cost-effective. Tempe Union High School District (TUHSD) issued an RFP in March 2021 on behalf of all S.A.V.E. members. In May 2021, TUHSD awarded RFPs to ParentSquare and Blackboard. After District leadership explored multiple notification platforms, the SUSD Purchasing Department reviewed the cooperative’s RFP documents and, in September 2022, determined the RFP complies with all required state and district procurement rules.

    SUSD pursues data protection agreements with all vendors. In the case of ParentSquare, its data- protection agreement indicates which industry-recognized data-security framework the vendor has implemented and includes an exhibit for the deletion and verification of deletion of data upon our request.

    ParentSquare strictly adheres to all applicable laws and regulations, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and has received iKeepSafe’s FERPA Certification and COPPA Safe Harbor Certification. These certifications demonstrate ParentSquare’s commitment to providing the highest standards of student data security and privacy protection.

    ParentSquare was founded by a parent, for parents. In a statement it shared, “We understand and prioritize student data privacy and we believe that open and transparent communication is crucial in addressing parental concerns.” Read the company’s Privacy Policy here:  www.parentsquare.com/privacy.

    ParentSquare does not create content for families or communicate directly with families. Schools and district staff only have full control over the messages that families receive. The ParentSquare platform is the tool that allows staff to generate lockdown messages and mass notifications to parents. It is also the tool teachers, principals, coaches, club sponsors and the district will use to communicate with parents other than individual emails, telephone calls and face-to-face conversations. We are optimistic our use of ParentSquare will result in stronger, more streamlined, school-home and district-home communications.

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  • Publication of Public Record Requests

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 7/12/2023

    The District's public records department publishes all requests for public records with the exception of items that concern requests for student records or that would reveal personally identifiable information regarding students.  The District has withheld publication of two (2) public records requests this past school year. 

    The GovQA software allows for the posting of "trending topics" on the forward-facing District website. The District posts information regarding student counts in that location.  Each time there is a post, the software catalogs it and assigns a number.  The software also assigns numbers to any public records request submitted. These numbers are sequential and only the public records request numbers are shown in the portal. 

    Recent claims in social media that the District is not being transparent are untrue.  The items that are not displayed are either (1) related to students; (2) automatically generated from the “trending topics" portal; or (3) a request that was withdrawn.   

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  • The Scottsdale Unified School District is committed to connecting with stakeholders.

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 5/9/2023

    Whether through teacher, principal or district communications; in person, via email, through Let’s Talk or over the telephone, SUSD is in - and, in fact, promotes - constant communication with parent and community stakeholders.  Education is not a one-way street.  It requires transparency and honesty.  It requires having the best interests of students in mind 100% of the time.  It also requires business efficiencies in its $251 million operation.

    Last week, the Governing Board approved its meeting schedule for the 2023-2024 school year.  In order to streamline and make the Governing Board’s work more efficient, you will see that this new calendar calls for fewer “Special Meetings” next school year.  Special Meetings accommodate reports by district leaders on the progress of Board initiatives, present ideas for new ones, and allow time for in-depth discussion and consideration. Additional Special Meetings can be scheduled at any time with 24-hour notice.

    While Special meetings always have and continue to be open to the public, they are not – and never have been – the meetings at which public comment is taken from the community.  That opportunity is reserved for the state-required, monthly, Regular meetings of the Board, and, contrary to what you might have heard or read, we are not reducing the number of Regular meetings that will be held next school year.  All of the business matters requiring Governing Board approval will still be attended to over the course of the school year in the revised calendar, whether it is at a Special Meeting or a Regular Meeting.  Other school districts around the Valley, such as Queen Creek and Higley Unified, follow a similar schedule.

    You may have seen some recent social media, suggesting that the SUSD administration is attempting to “muzzle” public input or reduce transparency.  This could not be further from the truth.  Our staff remains committed to partnering first with parents and hearing from all community partners and stakeholders to serve the best interests of our students.

    While most concerns are addressed by a teacher and/or principal at the school site, we understand that additional support from district leadership is sometimes necessary.  District leaders are also available via Let’s Talk.  Additionally, the district will host Town Hall meetings in each learning community next school year.  We value connecting families with district leaders so they can answer questions face-to-face.  We find it to be much more meaningful than engaging in misinformation being spread about us on social media.

    To be even more transparent and enhance the trust our community has in our mission, vision and values, we are launching SUSD In-Focus.  This is an opportunity for those who are not already familiar with this district to connect and learn about the breadth and depth of our organization.  Through Learning Community tours, participants will see for themselves what world-class, future-focused learning looks like.

    Public Comment is important, certainly; however, policy does not permit us to respond on the spot or engage in conversations during a Governing Board meeting to try to address the concern being expressed.  While problems are not solved during the public comment portion of Regular meetings, it is an opportunity for our entire Governing Board to hear what’s on the community’s mind.  That opportunity is available at each Regular Governing Board meeting, held once per month when school is in session.  To be clear, SUSD is not reducing the number of Regular Board meetings or the public’s opportunity to connect with district leaders.  That is antithetical to who we are and what we aim to achieve.

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  • Update on Unitown and Minitown

    Posted by SUSD Communications on 4/19/2023

    Unitown

    History:  Unitown was brought to SUSD in 1989.  Some staff and students attended the Anytown State version and brought back the information to share and created the district program.  Since then, the program has been adapted to fit more of a leadership and education focus but it is still delivered in a discussion-based format using diversity topics.

    Purpose: The purpose of Unitown is to build human relation bridges for understanding each other and ourselves. Unitown is designed to bring about greater appreciation of the similarities of people regardless of their diversities of race, creed, abilities or any other differences they may have.

    Student-led clubs: There are some site-based clubs whose purpose aligns with Unitown. Please note that each student-led club identifies purpose in their own words.

     Most Recent Camp: February 2023, Prescott, Arizona, 5 nights

    87 students and staff attended this year. 

    Application Process: Students can apply to attend and are selected after an interview process.  Parents are sent information on the topics we will cover and then we do a parent night where we answer all questions to parents who have students attending.  There has been positive feedback – including one of the parents was a Unitown attendee previously in the district (1993).


    Minitown

    History:   Mini-town was developed as a way to get middle school students interested in supporting their direct communities and schools.  The year is unknown.

    Purpose:  Kids need many skills to be successful students. Minitown will give them many of  those skills (collaboration, leadership, making friends, ability to talk in front of others, unorganized play, manners at the lunch table, etc.)

    Student led clubs: There are some site-based clubs whose purpose aligns with Unitown. Please note that each student-led club identifies purpose in their own words.

    Last Camp: March 2019, Mountainside Middle School

    Please note that March 2020 was canceled due to COVID

    Last location held: Mountainside Middle School-1 night camp

    Selection Process: Minitown is advertised on school announcements. Students interested in Minitown self-refer and complete an application that requires parent signature. Information, including a packing list, is provided to students and parents. Each school is alloted 7-12 delegates. Delegates are middle school participants. Selection of counselors is done via an application.

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