With the first day of school rapidly approaching for Warwick’s students, school officials are emphasizing that electronic devices, primarily cell phones, will not be given a warm welcome back once class is back in session.
“It's a good time, as school is about to be back in session, to emphasize to parents and the community that we're serious about eliminating cell phones as a distraction to the school day,” said Bob Littlefield, director of secondary education for Warwick schools, during a special meeting of the School Committee on Thursday.
Approved in April, the school committee unanimously passed a policy restricting the use of any personal electronic device – including cell phones, smartphones, smart watches, etc. – “during school hours,” which is purposefully broad to include situations not solely happening in the classroom.
Only in specifically directed scenarios where a teacher grants permission for an educational purpose can personal electronics be used during school hours, and students who are caught on such devices may face consequences up to a confiscation of the device.
However, the exact scale of consequences that would occur from a violation of this policy has not been drawn up at this time. There was discussion regarding the issue at Thursday’s meeting, but a finalized set of marching orders will need to be communicated to parents and teachers prior to the school year kicking into gear.
“We can't confiscate or provide disciplinary action to a single student until the consequences are laid out,” said school committee member David Testa.
Littlefield said that discussions were well underway and ongoing regarding the scale of discipline with the secondary school principals. He explained a basic framework of the policy’s disciplinary protocols had been discussed.
“It's progressive discipline,” he said. “This is a topic for our discussion when we meet in our secondary principals meeting prior to school opening. Consequences range from confiscation of the device, assignment of detention and assignment of Friday detentions, which is a practice they follow at the high schools, then confiscation of device for it to be returned only to the parent in the event of multiple offenses.”
Committee chairwoman Karen Bachus has been a vocal supporter of the policy since it was originally brought up earlier in the year, and emphasized the importance of all schools in the district enforcing the policy in an equitable way.
“Going forward this is a policy that the school committee takes very seriously,” she said. “We take our students’ education very seriously. We expect it to be administered in a firm, fair and consistent manner. And if we find out that it is not being administered in a firm, fair and consistent manner to all students, then we might have problems. But I know we have great administration and faculty and I know that everybody is going to work for what is best for the kids.”
Parents can expect more information as school comes closer to resuming for the 2019/20 school year, and students will be receiving information during their orientation sessions regarding the new, stricter policy as well. It is a policy that will almost certainly surely generate disagreements between the student body and those in charge of their education, although those in charge of enacting the policy were unified in their adopting of it.
“I'm very much in favor of this, although I have an incoming senior who begs to disagree with me,” said Testa.