PAWTUCKET — While schoolyard scuffles are nothing new, some parents of elementary-age students have complained that more supervision is needed outside the buildings prior to the start of the school day and at dismissal time. On Wednesday night, a majority of the School Committee agreed, and approved the quick implementation of a plan that will add 20 minutes of outdoor staff supervision in the morning and 20 minutes after school lets out.
Michelle DeJesus, the parent of a student at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School, had pushed school officials to come up with a plan to provide more monitoring after she said she witnessed several incidents of children fighting or being bullied in the school yard. She had also requested that letters be sent out to parents notifying them about the lack of supervision outside the school buildings in the morning and after school lets out in the afternoon.
DeJesus' requests were bolstered by another parent, James Kelley, who told the school board that his kindergarten-aged daughter had been “beaten up” twice at the Fallon Elementary School. He said there is a lack of supervision in the schoolyard as well as in the cafeteria in the mornings and said his complaints to the school's principal “have fallen on deaf ears.” He added that he even recently reprimanded a parent who was “yelling and swearing at her kids in the middle of the school yard.” “Something needs to be done,” Kelley stated.
At the request of Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke, Kathleen Suriani, the School Department's elementary school performance officer, gave the committee a presentation on the supervision issue. She said she went to Nathanael Greene and several other elementary schools and spoke with principals, teachers and many parents about the issue. She said that several parents did express concerns about the supervision, although school staffers also expressed frustration that some parents bring their children to school too early.
Suriani noted that currently, based on the school employee contracts, only the principals are responsible for monitoring the students' comings and goings before and after school. She said that according to the language of the teachers' contract, the school day for the teachers begins at the same time it does for the students, and ends just 10 minutes after dismissal time.
Suriani said that with the implementation of the free universal breakfast program in all of the schools, breakfasts are served 20 minutes prior to the start of the school day. However, she said that while parents have been notified that children should not be at the school any earlier than 20 minutes before start time, there are some who drop their children off earlier—in some cases an hour or more--due to their work schedules. She said there are also some children who linger around the schoolyard in the afternoon.
When asked for a legal opinion on the matter, Suriani said she was told that the school district is responsible for providing “reasonable supervision” during the time that the students are expected to be present. She was advised that this typically means supervision for 15 minutes before school and after dismissal.
Suriani also said that school districts in neighboring communities handle the supervision issue differently, ranging from having teachers or teaching assistants staff the schoolyards to hiring specific yard monitors.
Suriani said that while several suggestions had been made about having older students, grandparents or other volunteers do the monitoring, the safest and most consistent approach would be to ask for teachers, teaching assistants, or non-union staffers to volunteer to do the monitoring for extra compensation. She said this would involve the employee coming in 20 minutes before school starts and then staying an additional 10 minutes beyond the 10 minutes already contractually required after dismissal time.
Suriani estimated that the cost of doing this from now through the end of the current school year in June would amount to about $35,000. To continue the supervision in the upcoming school year at all grade levels, from kindergarten through grade 12, would cost an estimated $81,840 to $113,000 at the elementary level, $24,553 to $33,909 at the middle school level and $16,368 to $22,606 at the high schools, for a total annual cost of $122,760 to $169,545.
Several School Committee members questioned whether there was a need for the extra supervision at the middle school and high school levels, particularly when some of the schools have school resource officers on the premises. However, Cylke and other members brought up the legal opinion regarding supervision and said that in the matter of being equitable, the extra monitoring should be system-wide.
A motion to implement the extra supervision at all of the city's schools, in the most cost-effective way possible, was approved by the committee in a 5 to 2 vote, with School Committee members Nicole Nordquist and Raymond Spooner opposed. Nordquist said she didn't feel that she had been given enough time to fully review the measure and Spooner said he believed the action was another case where the schools were being required to step in and provide social services.
Cylke also stated that a letter would be sent out to all parents notifying them that students (even those participating in the breakfast program) should not be at school any earlier than 20 minutes before the start of the school day.
In other matters, the School Committee voted 6 to 1in executive session to deny a request that had been made by the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance to enter into a memorandum of agreement that would extend health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of union members. Nordquist was the lone vote against the denial of the request.