by Kathe Molloy for the News Leader

NEWPORT – Many questions and concerns were raised during an open meeting on January 12 regarding school compliancy with often confusing new state and federal laws.

Newport schools are working to comply with laws which would require mandatory reporting, in writing, whenever a school employee witnesses an act of theft, destruction, or violence on school property or buses, regardless of the age of the perpetrator.

In a letter to school superintendents, David Bradley,attorney for Newport schools wrote: “The new state mandatory reporting law requires laymen to make some rather complex and technical judgment calls that legal scholars have difficultly making. I can almost guarantee that your local police department will not be anxious to hear about every petty theft and every broken window in every grade of your schools. I think you should discuss with your police chief the nitty-gritty of complying with this law.” Until now school personnel could exercise discretion in reporting incidences to the police.

Hoyt Unconcerned by Impact

Newport Police Chief David Hoyt seemed less concerned by the new law and the impact it would have on his department. “I think the school board and the police force can decide how to handle incidents, We don’t have to physically go into the schools for every incident. The dispatcher can receive a call and file it In the computer in 45 seconds.”

Judeann Langlois assistant principal of Newport Middle High School suggested using the four-part student discipline forms already in use as a way to file incidents without burdening the police department. “But,” she said. “it has to be a matter of common sense.”

No Room for Discretion

Bert Spaulding Jr., School Board member, said, “The law says that an employee shall report,a supervisor shall report, a principal shall report. Discretion and common sense are not in the word shall. You must report all incidents. ”

When School Board Chairman Frank MacConnell Jr. asked if school administrators could continue to use discretion in reporting County Attorney Marc Hathaway replied, “If you want to get very, very technical, no they cannot. But the call doesn’t have to bring a cruiser to the school. These laws applied strictly are a problem but they are what we have to work with.”

GunPolicy

State and federal laws would also require the School Board to examine its policy regarding gun possession on school grounds. Both the federal Gun Free Schools Act and the new state law, which goes into effect June 1, require the expulsion of any student in possession of a gun on school property. However, the federal law requires that the expulsion must be for one year while state law does not specify the length of expulsion. Both laws do allow for superintendent modification of expulsion on a case-by-case basis.

Laws Conflict

Under state law the superintendent is empowered to give written consent for the possession of a firearm on school property. A student who wanted to go hunting after school, for example, could obtain permission to keep a firearm in his or her car. Under federal law, the school superintendent does not have this same authority as guns are prohibited anywhere on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of the school.

Jeff Kessler, a school boardmember, argued that students should not have guns in their cars while at school without getting permission flrst. “If they are going to hunt they should petition the superintendent the day before. They are not adults,they are subject to regulations within the building. They have greater restrictions because they are students.”

Deadline for compliance is June 1995. If they fail to meet this deadline the Newport schools would lose $208,000 in federal grant money, Liz Durocher, school superintendent said. The grant money services Newport’s school lunch program and special education vocational curriculum development, a $9,500 block grant, and $103,000 in Carl Perkins vocational school money.

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