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.