Localblogging

Letter to the editor: Drug-sniffing dogs in our schools

This letter appears in the Portsmouth Times and Portsmouth Press this week:

To the editor:
Last Friday, for the first time anyone can recall, drug-sniffing dogs were deployed at Portsmouth High School. For half an hour, students huddled in lockdown while the dogs prowled the halls. The administration has promised to continue this practice through the remainder of the year.

To me, this is yet another incursion on civil liberties that is tolerated in the name of security. We've grown accustomed to NSA wiretaps, taking our shoes off at airports, and ubiquitous surveillance. Now, we are willing to teach our children -- literally teach our children, in school -- that the state can send in dogs to sniff their belongings at any time, with no warrant.

But does Portsmouth have a reason to send in the dogs? According to the 2016 Portsmouth Substance Abuse Needs Assessment survey conducted by the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, "Significant drops were reported in use rates for alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs over the past two years at the high school for all grades."

Security versus civil liberty is an area where reasonable people and courts can (and do) disagree. Whatever position you take, I think we can agree that it affects the character of our schools and is worthy of a community discussion. The Portsmouth School Committee will be taking up this issue at their meeting on Tuesday, May 9, and I encourage parents and residents to share their views.

John G. McDaid

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

PHS proceeds with K-9 sweep over ACLU objection

In an e-mail message just sent to parents, principal Joseph Amaral announced that a K-9 drug sweep had been conducted this morning at Portsmouth High School.

A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

Today, April 28, 2017 Portsmouth High School, in collaboration with the RI Working Dogs Association, had a pre-planned lock down and sweep. The building initially went into lock down and then students and teachers continued with instruction while the building sweep continued in the parking lot. The event began at 9:22 am and the building was cleared before 9:38am. We commend our students and staff for their cooperation throughout the process. We want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to keep our students and staff safe.

Sincerely,

Joseph N. Amaral

I have written to Supt. Ana Riley and School Committee chair Terri Cortvriend to register my extreme dissatisfaction with Principal Amaral's decision to proceed with this diminution of our students' civil liberties.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

RI ACLU opposes PHS drug-sniffing dog plan

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Click for full document.

In a tweet this afternoon, the RI ACLU announced it had sent a letter to the Portsmouth schools "strongly urging" PHS to reconsider their plan to use drug-sniffing dogs. The letter says that the use of police dogs "casts a pall over the entire educational experience and the values that schools should be instilling in students." From the letter:

The use of drug-sniffing dogs in the school setting is extremely troubling for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it treats students like criminal suspects instead of as teenagers who should be learning the value of human rights.

While you cite the “proliferation of illegal substances” among young people, we are not aware of any data that confirms such a proliferation, particularly while at school. In any event, as adults we would be appalled if our employer brought in drug-sniffing dogs because drug use was said to be “proliferating” among adults. It is no more appropriate to do it to captive teenagers in the school setting.

As you are undoubtedly aware, one day just last month, K-9 searches were conducted at Middletown High School as part of a “training exercise.” As is almost always the case with these these types of “exercises,” no drugs were found in the school. Since your plan does not appear to be prompted by any actual reports of widespread illicit drug activity at the school either, it remains abundantly clear that these searches are not really about rooting out drug problems; they are just blatant displays of raw police power and intimidation.

One of the documents I submitted in my complaint filed with the ACLU was the most recent "Portsmouth Youth Substance Abuse Needs Assessment," posted on the school district's own web site, which shows a decline in drug use. Here's the relevant page (annotations are mine; click to embiggen).

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I'm encouraged to know that I'm not the only parent who reported this to the ACLU, but I'm not surprised. At a meeting of the PHS Parent Advisory Board on Monday evening, 2 out of the 3 parents attending expressed their opposition to the plan. (Yes, I was one of them.) At that meeting, Principal Amaral disclosed that the plan was to have the dogs sniff not only lockers, but backpacks as well, which I find particularly problematic.

Links
ACLU letter
Portsmouth Drug Use survey

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

Portsmouth High School to call in drug sniffing dogs

In an email dropped on a Friday afternoon during school break, buried in the fifth paragraph of what starts as an innocuous and boring memo, PHS principal Joseph Amaral announced the school would be "coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus."

While the goal of maintaining a drug-free school may be laudable, I have concerns about turning our educational institution into a space patrolled by multiple police forces and K-9 units. It seems disruptive and not conducive to the environment of collaboration and trust that our Portsmouth PD had worked so hard to achieve. I can accept the notion of a school resource officer, but this feels like it goes way beyond that.

A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in profession
A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL [Repitition in original -- Editor]

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in professional development with students as part of Patriots Committed. This group of students and adults provide chemical free activities and ongoing substance abuse prevention and health information to our students and community in hopes of students gaining optimal performance in all that they do. Our school continues to implement a positive behavior intervention program called MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support). Our MTSS committee has organized several programs to reward students for making good choices that contribute to a positive learning community. “Pride Bucks” have been implemented as recognition, by their teachers, for students demonstrating these behaviors. Teachers also recommend students as “Students of the Month” to the Principal for a celebratory breakfast. We continue to reflect and revamp our discipline code to support a balanced approach to respect and appropriate behavior.

As you may know, we have invited many organizations and groups to provide knowledge and guidance to our students on how to be safe and drug free. The State Attorney General’s program has come to our school to share with students real life stories and how we can help those who are afflicted with drug abuse. In addition, we recently hosted the F.A.C.T. program (Fostering Alternative Choices & Thinking) through the Department of Corrections for all of the Freshmen and Sophomore students in an effort to help them reflect about the best choices for themselves and how substance use/abuse will impact their life choices. We have also held assemblies and events to give students the tools to prevent bullying and intolerant behavior. This effort requires the support of the entire community including parents, teachers and students.

We are concerned with the proliferation of illegal substances, such as marijuana and other controlled substances among young people. In order to maintain a substance-free high school, we are coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus. These fully trained K-9 units will be used to do periodic searches throughout the remainder of the school year. K-9 units will not engage with students.

Finally, if you have concerns about your child regarding substance abuse, our Student Assistance Counselor, Kelly O’Loughlin, is available to provide additional support options. Her email contact information is oloughlink@portsmouthschoolsri.org . Working together we can make PHS an even better learning community.

Sincerely,

Joseph N. Amaral
Principal - Portsmouth High School

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

My testimony against Rep. Mendonca's sub-minimum wage bill

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What it looks like when I testify. Photo courtesy Sen. Jeanine Calkin

Just got back from the State House where I testified before the House Labor Committee on Rep. Ken Mendonca's bill H5594 which would freeze the minimum wage for those under 20 at $9.65/hr, no matter what the general assembly does this session. He complained that people were "lighting up his twitter feed," so if any of his Portsmouth constituents are inclined to tweet at @ElectKenRI and provide feedback, you definitely should.

Here's what I said to the committee this evening:

Chair Craven, members of the committee. I’m John McDaid, a retired parent of a 17-year-old from Portsmouth. I’ve worked since I was my son’s age, and a fair minimum wage is important to me and my neighbors in Island Park, an area that committee member Jay Edwards represents.

I speak in opposition to H5594, which would limit employees under 20 years of age to the current minimum wage, no matter what increases other workers receive. This is grossly unfair. I believe in equal pay for equal work. If a 19-year-old is doing the same work as someone just a year older, they deserve to be paid the same rate. I oppose H6052 for similar reasons. The narrow purpose these bills is to deny equal compensation based solely on age. If the general assembly decides to raise the minimum wage, why would it not extend young Rhode Islanders equal protection?

Representative Mendonca’s concern trolling about the impact on jobs is disingenuous. Anyone who has studied the data should know the correlation between minimum wage increases and job loss is tenuous and inconclusive. Included in my written testimony is a study conducted by the National Employment Law Project analyzing 75 years worth of data. Quote: “basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages.” I urge the committee to consider all the facts.

As a semi-senior-citizen, I also urge the committee to consider the impact on older workers. This bill tacitly encourages age discrimination. If employers are as motivated by the bottom line as Rep. Mendonca suggests, why wouldn’t they always choose younger workers to get a lower rate?

And as a parent of a child approaching college age, I can tell you I want my kid to get every penny he deserves at his jobs. This committee understands paying for college is no picnic. I want any member of the general assembly who supports for this bill to look my son in the eye and tell him “An hour of your life is worth less than an hour of mine. And I think that is fair.” If this bill passes out of committee, I promise to bring him back and introduce him to you all so you can tell him that personally.

Honestly, I am ashamed that a representative from Portsmouth sponsored this bill, and I urge this committee to treat it with the contempt it deserves. As my 17-year-old would say, “kill it with fire.”

References
National Employment Law Project Summary
National Employment Law ProjectFull report (pdf)

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02871, Localblogging, GA

Rep. Canario announces State House joins Hasbro ‘Good Night Lights’ tomorrow

canario.jpgRep. Dennis M. Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) is pleased to announce that the Rhode Island State House will be participating in the “Good Night Lights” program this Wednesday night through Friday night. The program involves businesses, buildings, and groups within the sightline of Hasbro Children’s Hospital whom blink their lights on and off for one minute at 8:30 p.m. every night. Often, blinking room lights can be seen in the hospital as reciprocation to the nightly ritual.

“This is truly a heartwarming gesture that so many have become involved in over the past year and I would like to thank Governor Raimondo and her administration for allowing the State House to hopefully brighten the spirits of the children in Hasbro,” said Rep. Canario.

Representative Canario had written to Governor Raimondo and the Department of Administration about the possibility of the State House joining the other buildings, businesses, and groups who are in view of Hasbro Children’s Hospital and participate in the nightly gesture to the children residing in the hospital. The Department of Administration informed Representative Canario that the State House will be flashing its lights at the children in the hospital for three nights starting tomorrow, April 12.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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02871, Localblogging, GA, Dennis Canario

John McDaid featured at Sandywoods April 25

I'll be doing the feature performance at the Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton, RI, on Tuesday, April 25 at the open mic hosted by Gary Fish. My 40-minute set starts at 8pm (doors open at 7). No cover, BYOB/BYOF (pass the hat). And here's a new song I'll be doing that I wrote for the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA) Songwriters in the Round. It's called (Time to) Face Facts, And it doesn't even invoke Kellyanne Conway (until the fourth verse...) Enjoy!

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02871, Localblogging, Music

AIPC legislative forum rescheduled for April 27

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngThe Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) has rescheduled its 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum. Previously scheduled for March 15 but postponed due to weather, the event will be held Thursday, April 27, from 8:30 – 10 a.m.

The 2017 forum is AIPC’s second annual legislative forum and part of its ongoing “Smart Island” series of public events. The event is free and open to the public; however, space is limited and registration is required. Anyone registered for the original event date must re-register. Tickets are available through AIPC’s website, www.aquidneckplanning.org.

More info in prior post here.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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02871, Localblogging, AIPC, GA

RI Foundation offers $10K community-building grants

13sep30_rif.pngThe Rhode Island Foundation is offering local libraries, schools, municipal agencies and nonprofit groups grants of up to $10,000 to fund proposals that bring people together as a community, the group announced in a release.

“We believe that community is created at the intersection of people, places and traditions. Our goal is to make unique and important things happen that will enliven their communities,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s senior vice president of strategy and community investments.

Potential uses include improvements to parks and other public spaces, the creative use of art in public spaces and staging programming that invites people to experience community in public spaces.

Priority will be given to proposals that include community support such as matching grants, the participation of volunteers and donated space or other forms of in-kind contributions.

While new initiatives as well as enhancements to ongoing projects are eligible, the grants are intended to support one-time costs and expenses. Projects will not be eligible for renewed support in future years. The deadline to apply is March 31.

This is the second consecutive year the Foundation has offered the Community Grants program. In 2016, the organization awarded grants for bike lanes, walking tours, community gardens and public artwork and historical markers among other projects.

Last year, the Town of Portsmouth received $10,000 to create a dog park in a 2-acre section of Melville Park. An estimated 1,600 dogs are licensed in town.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2016, the Foundation awarded a record $45 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information about the Community Grants program, visit rifoundation.org.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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02871, Localblogging, RI Foundation

AIPC to host Aquidneck legislative forum March 15

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngThe Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) has scheduled its 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum, to be held on Wednesday, March 15, from 8 – 10 a.m., in the auditorium of the Community College of Rhode Island in Newport, RI.

The 2017 forum is AIPC’s second annual legislative forum and part of its ongoing “Smart Island” series of public events. The event is free and open to the public; however, space is limited and registration is required. Tickets are available through AIPC’s website, www.aquidneckplanning.org

“We’re delighted to host this event for the second year in a row,” said AIPC’s Chairman, Richard P. “Dick” Adams. “It’s one of many ways that AIPC facilitates communication between state and local leaders, and members of the public here on Aquidneck Island.”

More than half of the state’s Newport County delegation will participate in the forum, including Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, Sen. James A. Seveney, Rep. Marvin Abney, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Rep. Lauren Carson, and Rep. Susan R. Donovan. The event is expected to draw 150-200 people, and will provide an opportunity for questions from the public.

The event will be moderated this year by Neil Steinberg, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, the state’s largest charitable foundation. “Community engagement is a positive force for change. State lawmakers, the Planning Commission and local stakeholders deserve credit for coming together to share their vision for moving the area forward,” said Steinberg.

2017 is shaping up to be an active legislative session, while the state faces added uncertainty presented by the new administration in Washington. The forum will provide an opportunity to discuss how new state initiatives may affect Aquidneck Island.

For more information about AIPC and the 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum, see www.aquidneckplanning.org

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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02871, Localblogging, AIPC, GA

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