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Worcester schools see new weapons, smoking policies

(Oct. 24, 2014) Worcester schools will see new policies on weapons, smoking and the mandatory attendance age following measures approved by the Board of Education Tuesday.


New weapons policy

For the first time, the schools have an official policy on weapons, specifically barring students from possessing, using or threatening to use a weapon on school grounds or at school-related activities.

“We didn’t have a specific, spelled-out weapons policy,” the board’s Chief Operating Officer Louis Taylor said. “We wanted to have something clear.”

The policy follows major changes in student discipline guidelines across Maryland, which aims to overhaul a longstanding zero-tolerance approach to school discipline.

Visit http://bit.ly/1vMVZiQ to read the new weapons policy. Find Worcester schools’ updated discipline policy at http://bit.ly/1kpQhOa.

“We wanted to try to establish some parameters for ensuring a safe and nurturing school environment for students and staff,” added Dr. Aaron Dale, Supervisor of Student Services.


Getting ahead of nicotine

As municipalities, including Ocean City, work to keep regulations abreast of changes in nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes, so are the schools.

Worcester schools’ updated smoking policy stretches beyond tobacco products by also banning the use or possession of other smokeless tobacco or unregulated nicotine products on school grounds.

“We need to cut down on nicotine use in our children,” Board Vice President Jonathan Cook said, “For anybody that thinks that’s a little bit harsh, we need to look at what’s happening in health care communities. Everybody is moving towards a smoke-free, tobacco-free campus,” he added.

Taylor noted the spread of e-cigs and vaping in other venues like the Boardwalk will “certainly will filter to our schools.”

Penalties remain the same as they were for traditional tobacco products.


Rise in age to drop out

Following the same changes at the state level, Worcester’s Board of Education also passed a revamped policy on compulsory attendance, or the age at which students are allowed to leave school.

In the 2015-2016 school year, that age will jump from 16 to 17 years. It will rise again from 17 to 18 during the 2016-2017 year.

While it is a big change, Taylor said that Worcester schools never trumpeted the 16-year rule anyway.

“Not a lot of people knew that the compulsory age was 16 and we never advertised it,” he said, “We work very hard with kids at 16 who come in and talk to principals and guidance counselors about all kinds of alternative ways to keep them in school,” Taylor added. “We don’t allow kids just to… walk away easily.”

Worcester schools’ dropout rate remained below 3 percent over the last decade, according to data from www.MdReportCard.org.

Dale added the rule does not apply to students who graduate early, at age 17 for example.

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