Effort to keep Bellevue Elementary volunteer, district explains why it can’t stay as is

Bellevue Elementary School abruptly removed a full-time volunteer after 7 years at the school.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 10:18 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Isiah Pope loves kids and sports. And with his developmental and intellectual disability, volunteering for Bellevue Elementary School was the perfect fit for him, according to his mom.

“Volunteering with the PE teacher is his love, his passion,” said Annie Pope, his mom and legal guardian. “In the 7 years he’s been doing it, he’s never woken up and said, ‘I don’t feel like going today.’...So to have that ripped out from under him is devastating.”

The district informed the family earlier this year that he could no longer work full-time when they say they realized how much he was working.

Isiah worked the entire school day for the now-retired PE teacher.

“We reached out to the director of personnel with Bellevue Public Schools,” said his mom. “Who in turn told us that he wasn’t going to be able to volunteer, that he was a liability and it would end after the school year.”

According to the district’s spokesperson, Isiah was the only person in the district volunteering full-time, 40 hours a week.

She said: “From a legal standpoint: if you’re going to have an adult in your school building working and being identified as part of the school...wouldn’t you want to know that everything’s been done correctly? We wouldn’t want someone performing staff duties for the school district without them being an employee. This is for the safety of everybody.”

The district shared two options for Isiah. The first would be to work what the district says are the standard volunteer hours per week, which is about 10 hours or up to 2 hours a day, like other district volunteers. The other option would be to apply for a paraprofessional role.

Isiah’s mom told 6 News she’s searched through the opportunities on the district’s career page and unfortunately, nothing fits what her son does right now for the school.

“It’s about quality of life,” she said.

When one student at Bellevue Elementary learned that Isiah wouldn’t be returning as a full-time volunteer, the 4th grader took it upon herself to rally the community. She created a petition.

In it, student Saylor Borchers wrote: “Without him our school would not have the excitement that he brings! Taking him away would be like taking away a family member.”

Nearly 1,100 people signed it since it started circulating two weeks ago.

“I think that’s why the petition came up for the kids,” said Annie Pope. “Because we weren’t sure what to tell everybody. Because of that, we’re dumbfounded as to why he can no longer volunteer.”

Among those concerned about Isiah’s removal as a full-time volunteer is the Bellevue PTA president, Lisa Fangman. She said the issue is submitted to be heard next Monday at the Bellevue School Board meeting, which will be at 6:30 pm. There they’ll present the petition and hope the board reconsiders the decision.

“I wish I could stay longer, but the kids have been asking me questions about if I’m going to be the PE teacher next year. Yeah, it’s really hard for the kids,” said Isiah. “It makes me feel kind of sad that just leaving the kids, leaving the school.”