Despite a packed house at Western Hills Monday night, the Cranston School Committee meeting was uneventful. With many coming straight from the education forum at West, teachers turned out in droves to protest the approval of the Basic Education Program, but the matter remained on the table, continued to a future meeting.
In April, the Cranston Teachers Alliance filed suit against the committee and Superintendent Dr. Judy Lundsten in anticipation of BEP passage, calling it a violation of their contract. Within the BEP is Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s opinion that student learning should be the “primary reference point” for hiring decisions. In other words, Gist does not want districts to conduct job fairs that hire based on seniority.
“We collectively bargained an agreement; you have threatened to break that agreement,” CTA President Lizbeth Larkin said at the meeting. “We are outraged that this continues to go on. She set the bait and you quickly jumped at the chance to bite the bait.”
Larkin warned the committee, “You have awakened a sleeping giant.”
The committee ultimately voted 5-2 not to remove the resolution from the table.
In other news from Monday’s meeting, however, the committee voted 5-2 to approve a visitor policy for the district. Under the new policy, any visitor, volunteer or parent coming into the school for a program, event or to pick up or drop off their child must communicate with the main office prior to arriving at the school. Failure to comply could lead to denial of entry into the building, and will require the approval of the building principal or his or her designee.
Once a visitor enters the building, they must go to the main office and sign in, and wear a badge identifying them for the duration of the visit, measures that should have previously been in place across the district.
“Essentially, the policy is written to give us a handle on the people coming in and out of the schools,” said committee member Janice Ruggieri. “It’s not meant to be a deterrent to people coming into the school, or parents or visitors.”
For many parents, herself included, she said, they are already following a similar policy.
“As a parent, when my child is coming into school late, I call the school. If I’m picking them up early, I send in a note. We’re looking into what has essentially been a practice,” she said, adding that clearing visits and pick-ups through the main office minimizes classroom disruption and makes things easier on secretaries who are already being tasked as the first line of school security.
While the policy isn’t a catchall for security, Ruggieri says it is part of ongoing efforts to make schools safer. The last time the visitors policy was revised was in 1975.
“The safety element is such a large picture. Here’s a way we can control people going in and out of the school,” she said
Stephanie Culhane voted against the policy, along with Paula McFarland, who believes the policy oversteps the authority of the committee and administration.
“We can’t restrict parents. A parent can pick up their child if they want to,” McFarland said. “We’re not going to stop somebody from dropping off a child’s lunch.”
McFarland fears the implication of the policy, too. She wants to encourage parents from spending time in their child’s school, not put obstacles in their way.
“I think parents want to feel welcome in their community and the school system is part of that community,” she said.
The new visitors policy becomes effective on Aug. 28.