Schools may struggle to implement new policies

The Ashland school board approved a slew of new and revised board policies Monday night, most of which are state-mandated changes made during the last legislative session.

A prohibition against cyberbullying will be the most difficult of the new policies to enforce because threats or harassment made over social networking sites or e-mail are just as easily made at home as at school, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said. The district will still be responsible for monitoring bullying that takes place off school grounds, she said

"It does happen, and I don't know how you can really investigate something like that after the fact," said board member Heidi Parker.

Parker recalled an incident a few years ago when an exchange student forgot to log out of a school computer, and another student used his e-mail account to send hurtful messages to the student's teachers in Lebanon.

Another daunting policy is the new mother-friendly workplace mandate, in which the district must provide an extra 30-minute break and a designated space for nursing mothers in each school.

"This is great, but it's going to be a little tough to implement," Di Chiro said. The extra break time will be especially tough to grant at the elementary schools, where teachers do not have a free period without students, she said.

Guidelines for school-sponsored international travel, a policy authored by a local committee, also gained approval. The guidelines limit international trips to high school students and non-school hours unless unavoidable.

All policies will receive a second reading at next month's board meeting before they become official, and more policies will be introduced for a first reading.

The board also approved the strategic plan members have been revising for more than a year. The plan is meant to guide the board's long-range planning, and includes goals such as comprehensive foreign language instruction, enhancing partnerships with local colleges and creating a system for students to test out of and gain credit for classes in which they can demonstrate proficiency. Development of the strategic plan began with a community meeting in the fall of 2006.

Monday's meeting was held in the Helman Elementary library, which is slated for renovation under the upcoming construction projects. Board members are planning to meet at Bellview Elementary for their Feb. 11 session.

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