WARWICK, RI — The Warwick School Committee accepted a school calendar eliminating February vacation, accepted a revised $163 million budget proposal and gave a cold reception to a new social media policy Tuesday night at the Toll Gate High auditorium.
The committee accepted a new school calendar for the 2017-2018 year which eliminates the February vacation period. Feb vacation will now be two days, not a full week. School will start the day after labor day, said School Committee member David Testa.
The district’s chief budget officer, Anthony Ferrucci, recommended a revised fiscal year 2017 budget of $163 million, which the committee accepted.
Ferrucci said upgrading the fire codes at Gorton High School, an element of a $4 million bond request presented at Monday’s Warwick City Council meeting, a was a high priority in order for the school administration to use the building. The city council is its review of the bond request on March 20.
“We have a great relationship with the city,” Ferrucci said, noting that bringing Gorton up to code was “not a negotiable issue” and was a “worthwhile investment.”
School Committee member Karen Bachus was skeptical about the proposal to open the Gorton gymnasium to the public.
“I’m very suspicious of that,” said Bachus. “People are using other public spaces. We don’t have the money.”
Bachus said the funds would be better spent on improving the health and safety conditions at the district’s other schools.
“We have students and teachers in inside classrooms at Toll Gate,” Bachus continued. “Are they going to get air conditioning first? And if not, then we have a big problem. Take it off the table.”
The Committee also considered a first reading of a social media policy for teachers and staff, which offered guidelines for use of social media for school employees. In part, it reads:
The line between professional and personal relationships is blurred within a social media context. When employees chose to join or engage with students, families or fellow employees in a social media context that exists outside those approved by the WPS, they are advised to maintain their professionalism as WPS employees and have responsibility for addressing inappropriate behavior or activity on these networks, including requirements for mandated reporting.
- Employees should refrain from creating “personal” web pages or social networking pages that permit social interaction with current students. This does not include “professional” pages that may be used for work related reasons (homework blogs, school sports teams, etc.) It is recommended that employees not connect with former students until at least five years after high school graduation.
- Employees should notify parents of their intention to use social media to communicate with the students and the intended purpose of such communications. All ethical expectations for appropriate employee/student relationships should be followed. Employees should only provide their official work e-mail addresses as a way to communicate with students or parents regarding WPS and/or related business.
- During the work day, employees should refrain from participating on any social networking web site for personal reasons, even from personal equipment (i.e. their own smartphone, iPhone, laptop, tablet, etc.)
- Employees should avoid posting personal comments – on their page or someone else’s page – no matter whose equipment it is during lunch time and/or breaks since such activities will leave time-stamps that could be misinterpreted by others.
An employee who is responsible for a social media network posting that fails to comply with the rules and guidelines set forth in this policy may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.
Earlier in the day, Nathan Cornell, a 2016 primary candidate for School Committee, criticized the policy as on Facebook, saying the limits it placed on teachers’ use of social media, and who they can interact with, violated First Amendment protections.
Committee member Karen Bachus said there was “very concerning language” in the document and proposed assembling a committee made up of administrators and educators to draft revisions.
Committee member David Testa objected to the wording and said the policy “needs to be improved.”
The policy was tabled for further discussion.08 Warwick Social Media Policy 1st reading
06 FY2017 School Budget proposal - 3-7-17 (1)