September 20, 2014
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The way we see it
A step too far

Is the Warwick School Department being proactive, or are they going overboard?

That’s the question that arises from their recent decision to order seniors to cease all face-to-face contact with their senior project mentors. The order comes in the wake of the school department learning of a 6-month-old law that requires all mentors who work with school students to undergo national and state background checks.

The Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership pushed for the law so that their in-school mentors would get federal background checks, in addition to local ones.

When the Warwick School Department looked at the law, they brought it to the attention of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE). Those at RIDE said the senior project mentors were exempt from the law, but not wanting to take a chance, Warwick sent out a memo to seniors on Oct. 1. To date, there have been no incidences of mentors abusing students.

So this is where it gets sticky. Is the Warwick School Department overreacting? With permission from RIDE to continue business as usual, and with the possibility that they’ll negatively impact students working on crucial projects, it’s easy to say Warwick took things a step too far in haste.

On the other side, should we always wait for something to go wrong before we make a change? In the case of our students’ safety, being proactive about these things is a must.

But is this the best way to handle the situation? The school department won’t absorb the cost of the senior project mentors’ BCIs (a grand total of $26,000 not budgeted for) and is instead choosing to stop face-to-face mentoring in hopes of dodging any potential lawsuits that spring forth from the new law. Email contact is allowable, and encouraged.

Still, only 20 percent of the 750 seniors who started their projects in the summer won’t be affected, while the rest of the students will have to revise their projects.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Representative Joseph McNamara, who sponsored the bill in light of Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership requests. His “good deed” feels like a “misdeed” to some.

Taken off guard, the Warwick School Department seems to have been spooked into their decision to change the mentoring policy so quickly. To us, that’s not being proactive, it’s reactive.


Comments
4 comments on this item

the problem is all the money is going to the teachers saleries, benefits, and retirement and the rest of the programs and support are being cut. It really is sad. The tax payers aren't getting their moneys worth either. Look at where the schools rank in Warwick compared to the state and the nation! I could see if the kids were doing outstanding and getting tremendous grades but the fact is the tax payers are getting scammed.

Spot on Mike.

Here is a link to the law: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText12/HouseText12/H7077.pdf

"16-2-18.1. Criminal records review. -- (a) Any person seeking employment with a private school or public school department who has not previously been employed by a private school or public school department in Rhode Island during the past twelve (12) months, as well as

any person who seeks to participate in any mentoring program whereby the individual shall be working with a student or students as a mentor or in a mentoring situation, shall undergo a national and state criminal background check"

No where in this law does it specify that mentoring is allowed to take place even if it takes place at a business, not on school grounds, or not during school hours. The mentor and the school is not exempt from the law. It is a law, the law must be followed or Warwick will potentially lose $36+ Million of state funding, additionally without the state and federal background check, the schools can not be sure there is not a risk to the student. I believe the original intent of the law was to protect the students. There is no exemption for school projects.

Additional information is going out to the students. I have also asked that all updates be posted on the Warwick Schools website. www.warwickschools.org. If a student already completed the mentoring portion, they will be able to use it and will get credit for it. If a student has completed 1+ hours of mentoring time, they will be allow to present what they have in their project. If a student has not yet begun any mentoring, they can not have a mentor for the project. Corresponding with a mentor via email to gain information is allowable. This information will be posted on the Warwick Schools site as well.

I was told tonight that there are up to 13 districts with a Senior Project with a mentor component. We are not in this alone. We are working on getting the correct information and putting it out as quickly as possible.

RIDE was consulted and their interpretation of the law is just that, their interpretation of the law. There was another law RIDE interpreted just 2 years ago. The law allowed the cities and towns to reduce their Maintenance of Effort by 5%. This reduced local funds to the schools by $6.2 Million. RIDE interpreted the reduction to be for 1 year only. As we know from history, the city was allowed to keep the reduced level as the new Maintenance of Effort for the schools. This means the reduced funding is still in place. RIDE was wrong when it came to the MOE and they are wrong now. The law itself supersedes the RIDE interpretation. RIDE can interpret however they want but the law is the law. It is the courts alone that can define an interpretation of a law created by the RI legislators, not a department within the government like the Department of Education.

Patrick Maloney

Why is it Rhode Island, the smallest state, smaller than most counties in other states have like 37 different school districts with supers making 6 figures each?

I'll take it a step further. Do we really need 37 chiefs of police and fire ?

It is no wonder why RI is hurting so bad. It is unsustainable. People are moving out of RI because of the taxes, many are unemployed, many are simply making far less than they should because the money isn't there.

Politicans should be held accountable. People should be outraged and demand that these cities and towns start to become more regional.

Only in RI. However, it's all going to come to a crashing halt as the money runs out.

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