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School disciplinary policy is changing

January 16, 2012

WOONSOCKET — The School Committee is stepping back from its active role in disciplinary procedures for local public school students.
The panel voted this week to allow school administrators and School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan to handle disciplinary hearings it has been conducting for a number of years.
The change is an off-shoot of School Committeewoman Vimala Phongsavanh's review of school department policies.
Phongsavanh told her peers that while the committee has been involved in hearings for violations of the student behavior code, most of the incidents have concerned students using drugs or bringing a weapon such as a knife to school.
“They all come before us and I do believe our educators and social workers have the ability and the experience to make those decisions,” Phongsavanh said.
Rather than participate in the disciplinary hearing process, the School Committee should remain as a last option of appeal in the district, Phongsavanh offered.
The committee had followed such a policy back in the 1990s before it beefed-up the school department's response to student violence and weapons concerns and Phongsavanh recommended that the prior rule be followed in the future.
Parents not satisfied with a disciplinary ruling by the building principal or the superintendent would then have the option of the appealing the decisions to the School Committee, she said.
“The School Committee would be the last stop,” Phongsavanh said.
The policy change follows the arrests of a number of local students on charges ranging from student assaults, possession of alcohol and marijuana in school, making threats against the school community, and most recently, incidents of larceny at the Brother Adelard Ice Arena by three members of the boys’ hockey team.
All of the students in those cases were charged by the Woonsocket Police Department and referred to the city Juvenile Hearing Board or the Family Court in Providence. The cases were handled by the School Resource officer supplied by Woonsocket Police Department and department's juvenile division under the school incident reporting requirements also put in place in the 1990s in response to a rise in student acts of violence and juvenile crimes.
School Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier voiced support of Phongsavanh's proposed change in the school department's handling of student behavior problems and agreed that the committee should serve as an “appeals process,” for students. “We are going to follow a very old policy, one in place since 1994, and follow it properly,” Forcier said.
“We will be giving parents an opportunity to appeal that they haven't been receiving,” she added.
Forcier, however, said she still believes that members of the School Committee should receive “incident reports” from the administration on events that occur in local schools and noted those have not been coming to the panel members more recently.
“We need to be made aware of what is going on,” Forcier said while requesting that reports of student behavior incidents be included in the packets provided to School Committee members prior to the panel's regular meetings.
School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan said panel members must aware of the confidentialty concerns involved in the release of such reports.
“I just want to caution the School Committee to be very vigilant with student names and places. This information is confidential,” she said.
Phongsavanh suggested the panel develop a confidentiality policy that the panel members could sign to guide their handling of such information. School Committeeman John Donlon, a retired Woonsocket Police Department Juvenile Detective, asked whether the concerns over confidentiality would apply to students involved in behavior incidents that were age 18 or older.
Forcier said she expects that the committee members will be provided incident reports when problems do occur in local schools.
The five member panel in turn voted unanimously to adopt Phongsavanh's recommended policy change.

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