Schools prepare for new mandates


With new laws affecting education, the Warwick School Department is prepared to address changes in safety, curriculum and even scheduling.

A number of new safety laws were established to require school departments to perform safety assessments of buildings with local law enforcement, annual reviews by the School Committee, a model plan from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to be created and any specifics of safety procedure be removed from public record.

The Warwick School Department established a safety committee in the spring in anticipation of changes, specifically the assessments and updates to procedure.

“We knew the legislation was out there,” said Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino. “We have been meeting.”

The safety committee includes Mayor Scott Avedisian, local law enforcement, members of the schools’ PTOs, principals, Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen, Director of Elementary Education Robert Bushell, and D’Agostino.

The superintendent says the committee has been meeting, but the Warwick School safety procedures have been kept up-to-date over the years. D’Agostino explained that the district follows the most recent guidelines set down from the Emergency Management Association and has had an emergency manual for the past 12 years.

“We are in the process of updating our manual,” said D’Agostino. “But we are in really good shape with our manual.”

The superintendent said the main change would be an update to the procedure in the event of an active shooter.

D’Agostino also pointed out that since the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December, the security of all Warwick school buildings was updated: All elementary buildings are kept locked with camera and monitors.

Another law enacted this year would require all seniors to be certified in CPR and be familiarized with the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

D’Agostino said the district is waiting for guidance from the government as to how the new graduation requirement needs to be implemented, including who would teach it and how many hours are required.

He added that CPR training is currently offered as an elective but it is not a certification program.

“We are ahead of the curve if it is wanted for graduation in the senior year,” said D’Agostino.

Mullen has experience with a CPR certification at the high school level. When principal at Pilgrim High School, he said the teachers requested that a certification in CPR be offered. Mullen said the program was successful, providing students with a yearlong certification.

“It was up to them if they wanted to renew,” said Mullen.

Mullen said training in CPR is useful knowledge and should be taught to high school students, however he suggests the program not be limited to seniors.

“It’s a good idea,” said Mullen of offering CPR. “What I’d like to see is it offered at any point prior [to graduation].”

Mullen is also not sure how the program would be implemented but he chooses to believe Representative Joseph McNamara, the bill’s sponsor, who says there will be no cost to school departments. Mullen believes certification will become part of the health education.

Another new law affecting curriculum will require the Rhode Island Board of Education to establish a statewide dual enrollment program, allowing students to be enrolled in college and high school courses at the same time, earning credits at both levels.

Mullen doesn’t believe this law will have a dramatic effect on Warwick students because city schools have been participating in duel enrollment programs for years.

“It could be the law is working to extend these types of programs to all schools,” said Mullen, although he adds a lot of schools participate in these programs in one way or another.

Mullen explained that Warwick schools participate in two programs with the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to provide dual enrollment opportunities: High School Enrichment and Running Start.

High Schoo0l Enrichment is a part-time program for juniors and seniors, which allows them to take two courses (up to six credits) at CCRI while still in high school. Students must apply for the program and select courses with the help of their high school guidance counselor.

Running Start, on the other hand, is a true duel enrollment program where seniors study at CCRI on a full-time basis.

“If they want to study at CCRI, full-time during the day, up to 12 credits, they can do that,” said Mullen. “They get credits as well as the diploma.”

The Running Start program is available only to students who qualify based on grades, ACCUPLACER results and recommendations, among other things.

Mullen said students also have the option to take EEP classes from Rhode Island College, which are taught in the classroom at Warwick high schools by a Warwick teacher for college credit.

Another law causing a bit of conflict is that allowing gender-specific extracurricular events (such as a father-daughter dance or mother-son event) at schools so long as a comparable event is held for the opposite gender.

While D’Agostino said the schools would be able to decide their programming at their discretion, the department does have a suggestion.

“We have been recommending to principals when having a father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, you have it more along the lines of a family dance,” said D’Agostino, referencing a family dance held to celebrate Valentine’s Day this past school year.

D’Agostino added that the composition of the family is different today and that should be considered. “Each school will look at what their needs are,” he said.

The law says schools need to inform children and parents that children can attend events with any parent/guardian approved adult, not necessarily a mother or a father.

Newly approved legislation also permits schools to forgo a 180-day school year so long as the school year is 1,080 hours. D’Agostino said the option has yet to be explored by the School Department.

“We’d have to interpret it,” said the superintendent, adding that he believes that information from RIDE suggests the use of four-day weeks instead of five to save on heating costs.

While he did not dismiss the idea completely, D’Agostino said the department is simply looking at other things first.

“That is hot off the press,” said D’Agostino. “We are not focused on that yet. We’re focused on NECAP, safety and other things.”

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