Elementary Schools Implement Stricter Visitor Policy

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Elementary Schools Implement Stricter Visitor Policy

Leonardtown, MD - 3/13/2013

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By Dick Myers

Mike Wyatt and Kelly hall present Best Practices to the school board
Mike Wyatt and Kelly hall present Best Practices to the school board

St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS) have instituted an emergency policy that changes the “Best Practices on School Visitors” for elementary schools. The practices were developed by a committee of parents and principals.

The meetings to develop the policy changes were held last year before the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. But School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano said implementation was being accelerated because of the incident. The changes are effective immediately for the rest of the school year. A formal policy change will also be initiated.

The current written policy encourages parents to visit schools. With the new “best practices” the superintendent said, “We want to make sure individuals in the schools have business in the schools.” He added, “When parents are in the building they have to have a defined reason to be there.”

According to Executive Director of Elementary Schools and Title I Kelly Hall, “Elementary principals expressed concerns with existing practices at their schools related to safety, classroom disruption, and interaction with students. Parents expressed similar concerns.”

The best practices implemented include policies for cafeterias, playgrounds, school visitors and communication with families.

The policy for Visitors at School is:

·All established sign-in procedures need to be followed explicitly;

·Administrative approval is required to visit in a classroom;

·Siblings and other non-enrolled students should not visit during the school day; and

·Parent-teacher conferences need to be scheduled in advance and should not take place when the parent is visiting or volunteering at the school.

Cafeteria Best Practices include:

·Celebrations are encouraged to avoid food if possible; food celebrations require store bough baked goods to ensure that ingredient list is available for students with allergies and other health issues;

·Outside food brought into the cafeteria should only be shared with the child with the visiting parent;

·Parents visiting in the cafeteria should refrain from disciplining another child;

·Parents visiting in the cafeteria should not hug or touch another child;

·Parents visiting in the cafeteria should not travel with the class when leaving the cafeteria;

·Parents visiting in the cafeteria should follow the established rules and procedures;

·Parents and visitors may visit at lunch time following the established sign-in procedures; they would be expected to follow the procedures that are unique to each school (day of week, table seating, etc.);

·Siblings and other non-enrolled children should not visit in the cafeteria; and

·Prior approval is not necessary to visit at lunch.

Playground Best Practices include:

·Registered volunteers are permitted on the playground;

·Visitors who are not registered volunteers are not permitted on the playground;

·Registered volunteers should sign-in at the office using the BAM system indicating the playground as the location;

· Prior approval for registered volunteers on the playground is not needed;

·The school administration will determine the number of registered volunteers on the playground to ensure a safe and orderly environment;

·Siblings and other non-enrolled children may not visit the playground;

·Registered volunteers may observe on the playground from a designated area;

·Registered volunteers may play or interact only with their own child (i.e., pushing a swing);

·Registered volunteers should not engage the on-duty teacher in a conference or conversation during recess;

·Registered volunteers may interact with their child(ren) and should not engage in prolonged conversation or play with other students; and

·School administrators can accommodate specific requests when appropriate related to the playground.

Principals and parents from Evergreen, Lettie Marshall Dent, Piney Point, Leonardtown, Lexington Park, Benjamin Banneker and Town Creek elementary schools participated in the committee that developed the best practices. Hall and Director of Safety and Security F. Mike Wyatt made the presentation to the school board at their March 13 meeting. The parent members of the committee sat in the front row during the presentation.

The superintendent and the school board expressed regret that the times had led to the need for changes in the long-time ways of doing things. “We don’t want a closed environment but we want our children to be safe,” Dr. Martirano said. “We want to strike the right balance,” he added.

Several school board members appeared to be especially distraught about the policies regarding hugging. “It’s hard to see what this society is creating,” said Dr. Sal Raspa, the school board’s president. Quoting conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly, Raspa said, “We need to get the loons off the street.”

Board member Cathy Allen said it was sad that the changes were needed. “This is horrible,” she opined.

Board member Mary Washington said, “Our schools can be targets. Our children can be targeted.”

Board member Marilyn Crosby, who was a special education teacher, said her students always hugged her in appreciation. “But the times are different,” she noted

Board Vice Chairman Brooke Matthews said, “As times change we have to move with the times.”

Earlier in the meeting Dr. Martirano talked about an incident involving White Marsh Elementary. He said late last year another school on the Eastern Shore with the same name had suspended a young student for pointing his finger at another student. That led to quite a national uproar and the St. Mary’s County school of the same name received a number of nasty emails and phone calls.

Then on the Tuesday’s Bill O’Reilly show it was mistakenly repeated that the school in question was in Mechanicsville, Maryland and not the Eastern Shore school of the same name. Martirano said he informed the school to be ready for a barrage again. He also asked the Fox Network to retract the mistake.

The short existing policy encouraging school visits has been in place since 1998. Hall said the policy will be reviewed during the late spring and summer and a revision will be brought to the board for a review. Board policies are subject to a public hearing process.

Hall also said that secondary schools will work with Executive Director of Secondary Schools and School Improvement James Scott Smith to adopt practices for the secondary schools.

In summing up the situation, Hall said, “The world has changed and we believe that these Best Practices are fair, reasonable, and strike the right balance between parental involvement and safety.”

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