October 31, 2014
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Law of unintended consequences

To the Editor:

The Oct. 4 editorial “A step too far” regarding the state-required background checks for mentors was a bit disingenuous and only serves to further distort the issue. The actual legislation reads “…any person who seeks to participate in any mentoring program whereby the individual shall be working with a student as a mentor or in a mentoring situation, shall undergo a national and state criminal background check.” The editorial concluded that the Warwick School Department was “spooked” into changing their senior project mentoring policy.
The law’s wording is very clear and, unfortunately, the dozen or so communities that require mentoring for senior projects were not consulted in what was probably a simple oversight. What we have now is the law of unintended consequences, as well as a teachable moment for our legislators in the General Assembly. While it’s true that RIDE [Rhode Island Department of Education] issued an opinion that senior projects were exempt from the law, one must realize that RIDE is not a lawmaking body nor are they empowered to gauge the intent of the General Assembly. There is a simple fix for the future – amending the law to exempt senior projects – but Representative Joseph McNamara prefers alternative language that would still pose problems for those districts that use mentoring for their senior projects. Perhaps if the parents of our seniors expressed their views in a phone and email campaign to his office and the offices of Senators William Walaska, Erin Lynch and Michael McCaffrey (who helped guide the original bill through the Senate), that may change.
This decision has caused serious anxiety and concern among our high school seniors, who, in addition to completing senior project, must also complete their digital portfolios and pass their NECAP [New England Common Assessment Program] tests in order to graduate! They’re already under enough pressure and this just adds to it. The School Department must now devise an accommodative plan that calms their fears and clarifies what’s expected of them and, more importantly, communicate clearly to both students and parents because for so many, not being able to have one-on-one mentoring will impact what they choose (or have already chosen) for a project.
As a taxpayer and a parent, I think the School Department’s decision was prudent. While it is true that Warwick has not yet had any mentor-student incidents, there is a first time for everything and God forbid if that first time did occur and the School Department’s defense rested on a RIDE opinion of a law passed by the General Assembly. The potential liability would be enormous. Lastly, several years ago, Warwick decided to adopt both the senior project and digital portfolio as requirements for graduation. Doing both is not a state requirement. As I see it, this legislation has effectively neutered the program and perhaps it’s time to revisit the need for it altogether.

David Testa
Candidate School Committee At-Large
Warwick


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