Warwick board discusses adopting an opt-in, rather opt-out policy for school materials | Community News

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When: Warwick School Board Special Voting Session and Committee of the Whole, August 2.

What happened: The board again raised the topic of parents being required to sign up rather than being given the option to opt out of school materials.

Background: Last June, Board Member Jim Koelsch suggested that the Board re-address the issue of membership. The unsubscribe process currently in place for school materials allows parents and guardians to contact their child’s teacher to better understand the material. If they continue to be concerned about specific educational materials, an alternative will be offered to their child. With the opt-in, the process would be that all parents and guardians would have to sign up for all class material before it could be taught. No plan has been developed as to how this process would work and how parental consent would be obtained for all students.

Discussion: “How many times can we come back to a subject that we have covered in depth,” asked board member Leslie Penkunas, adding that the discussion of opt-in instead of opt-out would be logistically complicated. Board member Emily Zimmerman disagreed, saying she was in favor of the opt-in. She expressed concern about curricula that deal with sex education and human reproduction. Board member Matthew Knouse expressed concern about the books and materials used in the classroom and available at the library.

Library Committee: In response to the issue of library books, Superintendent April Hershey suggested that a new library committee could be created to review library books currently available in schools. A library committee was established several months ago with teachers, librarians, staff, parents and community members involved in reviewing over 1,000 books. Hershey’s new proposal is that the committee be chosen by the school board, which would conduct the interviews. She will present her project later.

Public Comment: There was a mix between those who wanted membership and restriction of library books and those who indicated confidence in the teachers and the students’ curriculum. Moms for Liberty member Rachel Wilson Snyder wanted a more functional membership policy, so parents knew exactly what their children were learning. Parent Mary Turner shared her own daughter’s experiences with her high school teachers, saying she trusts her teachers.

Pennsylvania Youth Survey: Lindsey Stock, director of elementary curriculum, instruction and assessment, provided highlights from the Pennsylvania youth survey that was conducted in 2021. Stock said the survey is administered every two years for pupils in sixth, eighth, 10 and 12 and that it is anonymous and voluntary. The survey is useful to help formulate Warwick’s overall plan and provide the services students need. The survey helps visualize demographics, access to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, antisocial behavior, community and school climate and safety, social and emotional health , as well as risk and protective factors. With a total enrollment of 3,817, Stock said 889 students took the survey. Full results are available at warwicksd.org.

Results: When it comes to e-vaping use, 23.9% said they only use flavors, while 25.4% said they use marijuana. Regarding alcohol consumption, students who reported consuming alcohol said that 36.3% of the time alcohol was provided or available at home through their own parents. In 18.8% of cases, alcohol was provided by relatives of friends. Student responses were positive regarding school safety, with 82% saying they had the opportunity to speak directly to teachers and 86.2% feeling safe at school. Students struggling with mental health issues were concerned. Of those who responded to the survey, 31.1% said they felt sad or depressed most of the time, with 28.1% believing that life was not worth it sometimes.

Answer: “This is an area that needs to be addressed, with mental health services for depression,” Stock said. There were also unexpected responses from students, some of whom were dealing with difficult family situations, grief or loss, were homeless, did not live with parents or guardians, and were food insecure. “We must remember that the Warwick community includes families and students who may be struggling whether they appear to be or not,” Stock said.

Special voting session: With the start of the 2022-23 school year set to begin on August 30, the board held a special voting session to vote on staff appointments before classes begin. The board has appointed Justin Welker as assistant principal at Warwick High School. Welker previously served as principal at Tulpehocken High School in Bethel, Berks County, since the spring of 2020. Several new teachers were appointed and a few attended the meeting. The new appointments included a language arts teacher at Warwick Middle School, primary and support teachers at various elementary schools, a cafeteria monitor and an assistant boys’ basketball coach.

Other personnel changes: The board approved a change in status for various educators, the election of independent volunteers and a retirement. Several resignations were also accepted, including Colleen Heckman as Department Coordinator for High School and College Guidance, due to her new position as District Director of Student Services.

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