standing Chariho High School

Chariho High School. Sun file photo

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — When students return to Chariho high school in September, they’ll be greeted with stricter policies on two issues of concern in the school district: cellphone use in class and substance abuse.

Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said that in recent years, the use of cellphones had become a distraction from learning in the classroom.

“I think we need to get back to the basics during instructional time,” he said. “We really don’t have any need for them to be widely available.”

The policy amendment, approved by the School Committee last spring, was proposed by teachers. It prohibits the use of cellphones in classrooms and other school spaces unless explicitly permitted by a teacher or administrator. 

“This actually came to a large extent, from the teachers, who are feeling that their instructional time should be sacred and should be free from distraction,” Ricci said. “My goal here is to empower them to take that step."

Students who violate the c policy will face disciplinary action, which begins with confiscation of the device and its return to the student at the end of the school day and escalates to further disciplinary measures for subsequent violations.

Ricci said, however, that the district had no plans to ban cellphones from school altogether.

“We can’t get to the point of searching kids’ pockets, so I would say that most kids have them on their person and we’re not interested in going that next step,” he said. 

The district has amended the substance abuse policy policy to require students found in possession of, or under the influence of controlled substances to attend a daylong prevention retreat and spend a minimum of three sessions with one of the school’s student assistance counselors. Students will also be assigned a 30-day social suspension, during which they will not be permitted to participate in any sports or other extracurricular activities.

“This is much stricter and the stake is much higher,” Ricci said. 

E-cigarettes, which have become increasingly popular on high school campuses but are difficult to detect, will carry their own set of penalties.

“Vaping would be extended school day, in-school suspension and a referral to the counselor. It’s become very prevalent. It’s so easy to hide. So we’re trying to be a little more impactful with our response,” Ricci said.

Eight prevention retreats, conducted by the Chariho Youth Task Force, have been scheduled for the new school year. The seven-hour retreats will take place evenings and Saturdays on the Chariho campus.

“We have scheduled eight retreats during the school year so depending on when the violation occurs, there’ll be a retreat coming up,” Ricci said. 

Task Force Director Dan Fitzgerald will coordinate the prevention retreats.

“I think it’s an incredible idea, because I think the school is one of the strongest protective factors we have in our community,” he said. “When a student violates our policy, oftentimes that results in them going off-campus, something like a suspension, but this is a really exciting way to still show the students that the school is serious about the students not using ... but also making sure that there’s some knowledge transfer and value added to that student’s life.”

Fitzgerald said the retreats would cover a wide range of topics.

“Everything from the latest information around e-cigarettes and vaping to youth marijuana use, impaired driving, mental health, stress, coping mechanisms, opioid use,” he said. “So no matter what the student would be in there with us for, we’re going to go over lots of different information and do a big focus on coping with stress and positive decision-making.”

Students will also leave the retreats with a list of resources.

“They’ll leave that room with a list of resources, where they can access help both in the building and out of that building and we’re really hoping that this can then put them on that trajectory that will not only keep them in school but set them up for success moving forward.”

Ricci said he felt it was important to enact additional substance abuse prevention measures now, before the behavior became routine in the school district. 

“I think it’s a problem where we have a lot of growth opportunities to get better,” he said. “I think it’s become so common that it’s beginning to have a negative impact on school culture and on learning.”

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