PHS

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

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 3.17.16 PM.png
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

Portsmouth high school electives to be discussed by committee June 14

Over the last week, teachers and students at Portsmouth High School began to hear that many elective courses were being eliminated next year (unless I've missed an e-mail, parents have yet to be officially informed; as of today, the courses were still listed in the PHS Program of Studies for 2016-17.)

At last night's school committee meeting, three students, a teacher, and one parent made the case for a robust selection of electives during the open comment period, but were advised that because the item was not on the agenda, the committee could not respond.

The students who spoke last night were eloquent about the importance of these and other elective courses, noting that they are required for STEAM certificates as well as preparation for the 21st-century jobs and college classwork they plan for their time after PHS.

Among the courses mentioned for elimination at last night's session were the entire theater curriculum, creative writing, Piano 2, and science fiction literature.

In an e-mail exchange yesterday, a school official confirmed that some of these courses would be cut. "Our budget for the high school next year shows a reduction of 5.0 teachers. As such, we have to make some adjustments in how we use our resources. We no longer can sustain running electives with low enrollment every year. Therefore, some but not all of the courses you mention above will not run next year."

Another source with knowledge of the process presented a slightly different picture, saying that, "If 15 or more kids enroll in these classes for next year they will be run."

In an article in the online Portsmouth Times, officials indicated that the goal was to offer the classes less frequently in order to fill them when they run. "For me, having 15 students instead of seven will enrich the quality of the class," Superintendent Ana Riley was quoted as saying.

Given the conflicting information, this afternoon, I filed a request for an agenda item for the next meeting, June 14, with Supt. Riley. I asked for an agenda item to "Explain PHS elective policy, discuss options, and make recommendations." This would give the school committee broad latitude to present information, hear feedback and interact with concerned parents and students, and potentially make recommendations for steps to mitigate issues.

As backup, I have requested that the District provide enrollment data for all electives from this past year, a list of which electives slated to run in 2016-17, and a list of staff reductions at PHS from 2010-2017.

My ingoing hypothesis is that we have been bleeding the slack out of the system with multiple years of limited budgets (last year's increase was 1.4%; the upcoming budget sees only a 2.4% increase.) With the District only down 52 students across the whole PK-12 range, it doesn't seem like a staff reduction of 5 positions at the high school is justified (although, to my mind, it does offer a possible explanation of why capacity for running electives might be limited.)

Parents of PHS students — and 8th graders — may want to attend the school committee meeting on June 14.

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02871, Localblogging, PHS, School Committee

PHS top school in Rhode Island blood donations

Portsmouth High School students donated the most blood this year of any school in the state, according to an e-mail sent to parents today by principal Bob Littlefield. Littlefield thanked all those who contributed, complimented PHS donors on their "mature, courteous, and respectful" work with the RI Blood Center. From Littlefield's note:

Not only did we have the most units of blood donated in relation to the size of our student body, but we generated more units than any other school.

The effort started back in July of 2014 with our summer drive and ended with our last drive of the year in May.

Throughout the year Portsmouth Patriots have given of themselves to help others. Hopefully, they learn to make regular blood donation a part of their every day lives for many years to come.

Equally important, though, is the praise we receive regularly from the staff at the RI Blood Center on how mature, courteous, and respectful our students are. And this praise comes from professionals who work in schools throughout Rhode Island. Our blood drives are organized, quiet, and make little disruption to the school day. This is a great example of Patriot PRIDE.

Editorial note: Written from a PHS group email.

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02871, Localblogging, PHS

Portsmouth HS post-prom party could use your support

This note was sent to PHS parents by principal Bob Littlefield, and if you are able to help out (either as a volunteer, or with a donation of food or cash, I know that would be most appreciated. This is a fun event that helps keep our students safe. Please pitch in if you can. Thanks.

The post Prom Party is less then one-week away. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has donated and volunteered for this exciting night. I wish to make one final appeal for a last minute cash donation, last call for volunteers, and call for food donations.

The Senior Post Prom Party aims to keep students safe on this memorable night. To do so we have Door Prizes and special Senior Prizes. We culminate the night with a Grand Prize. The night takes a lot of donations from many to be successful. If you have not had the time to donate, we can still can use your support. Online donations are being accepted at http://phs2015postprom.weebly.com. Please help us today with a donation.

We still need volunteers for the Post Prom Party on Wednesday, June 3rd. Please contact Liz Stack or Katie Heffernan if you are interested in helping out. Katie Heffernan: kheff1@cox.net , or Liz Stack: cstack6@cox.net.

Volunteers should remain flexible in their assignments and will be used as needed Wednesday evening.

And, finally, a last minute call for food donations. We expect over 200 students at the event, which requires quite a bit of food. Please go to http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0a4aaba82aa4ff2-post1 to sign-up to donate something today.

This is an exciting week for our Seniors. We want them to remember these events for years to come. Your help today helps us with positive outcomes and healthy choices for our Seniors and their guests.

Editorial note: Written from a PHS email.

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02871, Localblogging, PHS

It's Teacher Appreciation Day -- #ThankATeacher

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Image courtesy of NEA.

First and foremost, I want to thank all the teachers and staff at Portsmouth High School who have been working with our son, Jack, over the past couple of months as he's been having some health issues; the support and concern has been truly amazing.

Our whole family thanks Mr. Arsenault, Ms. Guerreiro, Mr. Holstein, Ms. Johnsen, Mr. Barker, Ms. Richards, Ms. Riesen, Ms. Valente, Mr. Betres, and Mr. Forgue, as well as Ms. Bellotti in Guidance and school nurse Ms. Hickey.

We feel very lucky to have such a great team working with us. Portsmouth has amazing teachers. Thank you all.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS

PHS launches "Bring Your Own Device" on Monday

14jan15_wifi.jpgIn an e-mail to parents last night, Portsmouth High School principal Robert Littlefield announced the official start of the school's "Bring Your Own Device" program on Monday, Feb. 3. Here's the e-mail from Littlefield:

We are getting ready to take our bold new step into the future -- the launching of our Bring Your Own Device policy on Monday, February 3rd.

Essentially, we will open our WiFi to anyone with an Internet device on our campus. When used RESPONSIBLY, and for its INTENDED PURPOSE this will amount to an exciting way to enhance student learning.

I have attached a copy of our "Frequently Asked Questions About BYOD" for all students and parents.

Every student at Portsmouth High School now has a PHS email account. We have sent an important message to every student about acceptable use of BYOD. In order to use our WiFi, students must open their email, click on a Google link, and agree to follow proper procedures. They will have until the end of the day on Thursday, January 30th to get this done.

Parents: click on the following link to connect with the BYOD page on our school's website. [link]

If you DO NOT want your child to have access to the Internet on a personal device, please contact the main office by emailing the message to wentzelp@portsmouthschoolsri.org.

I want to be clear about some basic rules regarding BYOD:

  1. All use is to be at the discretion of the teacher.
  2. Access to the Internet must be through our filtered WiFi, no 3G, 4G, or hotspot access
  3. Using the PHS WiFi is a privilege, not a right. It can be taken away for improper use.
  4. No technology support is available for personal devices at this time. Students are responsible for their own devices.

We want our students to have the best learning opportunities possible. Therefore, we need everyone's cooperation if this to work.

As always, I welcome your questions and thoughts. Feel free to reply to this email to contact me.

Robert Littlefield
Principal

Download the BYOD guide (900K pdf)

Editorial note: Written from a PSD e-mail.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS

Portsmouth High School launches "Bring Your Own Device"

In an e-mail this morning, Portsmouth High School principal Robert Littlefield formally announced the new "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) program which will enable students to use their own internet-enabled devices, starting in January.

To all Portsmouth High School families,

We are gearing up for rolling out a significant development at Portsmouth High School shortly after New Year’s Day in January 2014. Soon we will be opening up our school to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) practice where students, teachers, and visitors will have Internet access through our own Wi-Fi on campus.

It seems like each week I become aware of a new learning opportunity being offered by teachers that is dependent on students having access to the Internet. We have invested a great deal of resources toward modern computer labs and laptop carts and our Information Technology department does a tremendous job maintaining our network, implementing software, and keeping our hardware up and running. Yet, there are times when a trip to the computer lab is not necessary if quick access to the Internet is available.

Opening Wi-Fi
Starting in January, students will be invited to bring smartphones, laptops, tablets, netbooks, etc. to school in order to employ the devices for educational purposes only. In addition to opening Wi-Fi, each student will have an account for storing assignments on “the cloud” for easy access and sharing.

If we had our wishes, we would be issuing computers to every student. However, that is not possible at this time. However, we feel students run the risk of losing out on learning opportunities by limiting access to the Internet to only those students sitting in computer labs. We hope to allow those students with devices to use them while at the same time offering the opportunity without devices to borrow them from the school.

Challenges
Obviously, this presents some challenges. We have a faculty committee working on guidelines for the proper use of devices while in school. For instance, students must only access the Internet through our properly filtered Wi-Fi and not through the 3G networks supplied by their telephone service.

More information and opportunities to purchase
Much more information is available on the Portsmouth School District website, including offers by vendors for purchasing devices at an educational discount. I invite all parents to explore these opportunities.

PSD BYOD page

This is an exciting time for our school. I will continue to keep you posted on developments as the roll-out date approaches.

As always, if you have questions or comments please do not hesitate to reply to this email.

Robert Littlefield
Principal

Editorial note: Written from a PHS e-mail.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, edtech, PHS

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