LETTER: Commentary on School Drug Screening, Interim Superintendent Search

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The Watertown Strong Schools group attended the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee Meeting and added commentary at the end. 

Unofficial Minutes: Policy Subcommittee Meeting

10/20/16 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are NOT official minutes. Commentary can be found at the end of the minutes.

Written by: Kate Coyne

Subcommittee members: Guido Guidotti, Chair; Eileen Hsu-Balzer; Liz Yusem; Dr. Theresa McGuinness, Acting Superintendent; Others present: Donna Ruseckas, Director of Wellness & Extended Services; and Kate Coyne (WSS).

Drug Screening and Intervention Policy

Donna Ruseckas presented on the new state mandated drug screening law. She presented what she would like to have changed in the policy. She explained why the changes should be made and how things would work. The committee reworked some of the wording and settled on a draft, which Donna will present to the full SC on Monday, 10/24.

Donna explained that they must have an evidence based screening tool and that WPS has adopted SBIRT.

Verbal screening of students is required at two grade levels in middle and high school. Watertown has chosen to do the verbal screening in seventh and ninth grade. WPS will start in ninth grade this year, and move to both seventh and ninth grade next year. Those grades were chosen based on data collected by WPS and information about which grades are best to perform interventions.

The School nurses will be trained and will conduct the verbal screenings. It was stated that students could opt out if they felt uncomfortable or parents could opt their child out.

There was some worry that parents may be very concerned about this new verbal screening. The Subcommittee wants Donna to be ready to answer some of the privacy and screening questions that many parents are expected to have at Monday’s School Committee meeting.

Donna expressed that there will need to be a good bit of communication to parents and students around the new policy. Parents may need to sign off on this screening as they do with many other items at the beginning of the school year. The WPS website will need to be updated to include and explain this process. Once the full School Committee approves the policy, guidelines will be worked on to clarify the process.

Donna is to present on Monday and there will be a first reading. The vote on the policy will take place at the Tuesday School Committee meeting on 10/25 after the second reading.

Process for Hiring Interim Appointments

A copy of the policy was not handed out to the audience at the meeting, but was later posted. The overall theme was that when a position needs to be filled for <1 year, the Superintendent has the authority to do hire an interim. The Superintendent will send a written letter to the School Committee informing them of the need to hire an interim position.

Other agenda items

Other agenda items (Change Athletic Subcommittee to Student Development Subcommittee, and Development of School Committee Protocols) were not discussed at the meeting and were tabled for a future Policy Subcommittee meeting.


Kate Coyne

The new mandated verbal screening for drugs, I believe, may be helpful to our children and families going forward. My concerns (as I’m assuming other parents and students may have) are with the details of the process and privacy. What happens if there is a red flag in the conversation? What is the process and how will this be kept confidential? Also, this needs to be well explained to both the students and parents. I’m hopeful that these details will all be clearly stated to the parents and students, prior to implementation.

With regard to the policy of hiring Interim positions, I would hope that there would be a bit more wording put into the policy encouraging the Superintendent to involve parents and other community stakeholders in the Interim hiring process if possible.

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