Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education Meeting

Matthew Kazas

On December 3rd I attended the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, which was held at the Lincoln High School and started at 4:07pm. The Board members in attendance were Robert G. Flanders, Patrick A. Guida, Colleen A. Callahan, Amy Beretta, Anna Caro-Morales, Angus Davis, Karin Forbes, and Betsy P. Shimberg. Joining them was Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Education, and David V. Abbot, Deputy Commissioner of Education.

The first thing listed on the agenda was the Commissioner’s report. Gist started her report by commenting on the "Development of the boards support for starting a RI school for the deaf". Referring to development of the school for the deaf, she said: "We are making progress in terms of identifying individuals to serve on the board and are feeling very encouraged at the turnout so far."

After the Commissioner’s report it was time for the second item listed on the agenda, which was "Public Remarks". Most of the public remarks came from teachers, students and parents opposing the six-period day that Superintendent Tom Brady is trying to impose upon all of the city’s high schools.

John Welch, CEO of Innovative Health Care Plans, was the one of the two people to not speak about the six-period schedule change. Instead he said: "My suggestion is for the Regents to co-host with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees a presentation on a program called PAL that saved the Chicago school system $60 million and only cost $250,000. I think with the 150,000 students in Rhode Island this calculates into over a $14 million savings…"

Welch didn’t give any explanation about what PAL was, nor did he pass out any documents with further information.

The one other person to speak about something other then the schedule change was Mary Ryan, who has four children who were all homeschooled. Ryan said: "I received the Strategic Plan Draft about five days ago, and first I would like to ask that you seriously consider giving some more time before finalizing it."

The draft she was referring to was the RIDE Strategic Plan Draft and can be found here: The Draft was released for public comment on Nov 25th and, according to a Providence Journal article written by Jennifer D. Jordan on the 23rd of November, was to be endorsed at the Dec 3rd meeting. Later, Gist mentioned that there had never been a plan to finalize the Draft at this meeting, and that the finalization would most likely happen sometime during January.

Mrs. Ryan went on to say "One of the things I was concerned about is that it’s a constitutional right for parents to direct the education of their children. But throughout this document--other than one piece of it--there is no mention of parental involvement. There are also one or two clauses talking about how the directives would be reaching out to the families and students to tell them what their options were [based upon] proven pathways, and I feel that is encroaching on the authority of the parents."

She also mentioned her concern about how the draft seems to imply the standardization of younger children, ages three to four, to be ready for Pre-K.

After the Public Remarks section was over, a large majority of the people in the room left, leaving only eight or nine-- about four of those being reporters. This means that there was no one from the general populace to comment positively or negatively on any of the items for approval. Some of the items on the list for approval include: The 2010 revised budget and the 2011 budget, The Table of Organization, The Educator code of Responsibility and the Educator Evaluation Standards. All of these items were approved by the board with no comment from the few people left in the room.

The second to last thing listed on the agenda was the Strategic Plan update, which consisted of Gist reiterating some of things that she wants the Draft to change in the school system, giving a small list of word changes on the Draft, and speaking about how she had visited several families that were concerned with the Draft.

The last thing on the agenda was the Race to the Top update. The update was an explanation of how Gist has worked with the Strategic Plan to have it work alongside the Race to the Top. To learn more about the Race to the Top and how it affects Rhode Island, or to become a little more well-versed with Rhode Island's educational system, attend any of the upcoming Board of Regents meetings. A list of future meetings can be found here:


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Proposed Law Would Allow Apologies

Molly Koch

A Rhode Island lawmaker is introducing a bill that would make it easier for medical facilities to apologize for mistakes, without automatically facing legal repercussions.

This is happening in the wake of the Michael Woods’ wrongful death lawsuit filed against Kent Hospital.

James Woods told reporters all he needed following the death of his brother Michael at Kent Hospital was a sincere apology from the center's medical staff. But legal representatives often advise doctors that saying sorry could be seen as an admission of guilt, leading to a lawsuit.

The law is being pushed by Warwick Representative Joe McNamara, because he believes that allowing medical personnel to offer sentiments not only would comfort patients' families, but also that it could save money, by cutting down on expensive legal proceedings.

McNamara's plan would make apologies inadmissible in court. But the measure was previously scrapped last year, because of concerns that apologies would be made strategically to help exclude other damaging evidence. In response to those concerns, McNamara has said that the bill strictly defines what constitutes an apology.

This new law would be the first of its kind in the country. Michigan lawmakers have instituted a similar change of policy that has significantly lowered lawsuits, down from 260 in 2001 to only 83 in 2003.


What’s in your backyard?

Molly Koch

Maybe a swing-set, a sandbox, a garden, a pool, and… some toxic tanks? Yup, you read it right. Toxic, leaking tanks.

14 years ago, an underground tank at a gas station burst open in downtown Newport, leaking fuel into the ground. It went unnoticed, until some folks in a nearby courthouse noticed a bad smell.

It was removed immediately, but the contaminated soil was still there. The problem was only fixed when the city of Newport planned on re-paving the streets, and the federal government provided stimulus money to rehab the soil.

When asked if there was any idea how much fuel leaked out of the tanks, Paula-Jean Therrien, Principal Environmental Scientist at the Deparment of Environmental Management stated: "No, we don't. [There's] no way to estimate".

The $1 million stimulus grant is just to take care of 20 to 25 sites affected by ruptured underground tanks in Rhode Island. And while that only scratches the surface of the problem, without the stimulus money, it would be much less.

"Right now we have 300 that need some type of cleanup," said Terry Gray, Assistant Director of the Rhode Island DEM.

About 225 of those tanks are gas stations. Many of the tanks are clustered in densely populated areas such as Providence and Aquidneck Island.

The DEM has successfully gotten the number of leaking tanks down from 1,800 to 300 in just 10 years, but some are concerned that the shrinking fund will mean those responsible for cleaning up leaking tanks won't be able to get it done.

So, how do they know when a tank is leaking? The tanks have meters on them that measure how much fuel is put in, and how much is pumped out. If more is being put in than is taken out, they are checked for leaks.

Environmental assessments are also done, and the soil is tested by a lab to see if it’s contaminated.

It took 14 years to clean up the soil in Newport. And because of the stimulus money, it’s now a success story. But the money will soon run out.

Sources:, Brian F. Koch, PG Senior Geologist for Sage Environmental

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Texting Law Passed

Gretchen Ryan-O'Connor

Texting, sending a message from phone to phone, is a popular phone feature. Teens and adults both enjoy it. But can texting be dangerous?

While driving a friend or family member might send a text and you may want to answer- but it is now banned in 19 states including Rhode Island. Governor Carcieri signed the bill on November 10th, making texting while driving illegal. If caught texting while behind the wheel you will be fined $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $125 for a third. Other offenses can and will be more serious. "This law will help put a driver's eyes back on the road where they should be," said Michael Lewis, Department of Transportation director.

Statistics show that the percentage of car accidents caused by texting is 18%; talking on the phone causes up to 50% of accidents. Some states, and Washington D.C., have been toying with the idea of banning talking on handheld cellphones as well to try to further safen roads. In the private sector Verizon is speaking out as well, posting billboards that ask their customers to put the phone down and drive safely.

No text message is that important. While having a phone on you is encouraged for times of emergency, answering a text while driving is unsafe.