No student will be ‘given a COVID pass’ in life, Providence superintendent says


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Why is it important for children to return to school in person this year?

That’s the question Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green asked Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters and Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones during their weekly online forum.

The discussion focused on equity in education and how reopening schools affects the state’s most vulnerable students.

“This is an equity issue at its core,” Raimondo said.

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Raimondo expressed the importance of face-to-face interactions between students and teachers.

“The magic between the teacher and the student is life-changing and that magic happens best when in the classroom,” she said. “We all have to break our backs to get these kids back, as many as possible, safely.”

Jones said the coronavirus pandemic has hit communities of color especially hard.

“This pandemic has disproportionately impacted our communities of color … and it’s rooted and based on historic, systemic racism,” Jones said. “COVID-19 has just shined an even brighter light on those inequities that have existed for 400 years, easily.”

She emphasized that all families should have a choice of whether or not to send their children back to school in-person, adding that, for many children of color, education is the “golden ticket to a better life.”

“We have to fully engage all communities — not just some — and ensure that all of us have what we need to make it through the pandemic, and beyond the pandemic,” Jones said.

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Peters said in order to address those inequities, school districts have to provide opportunities for their students to shine. Educators can do this, he said, by providing grade-appropriate assignments, thoughtful lesson plans and attentive feedback.

“Everyone is going to have to give more,” Peters said. “We’ve got to meet in the middle and we’ve got to work together and we need to be able to risk it all to make sure children have a chance.”

The superintendent said no student will be “given a COVID pass” in life and must be educated “at all costs,” whether that be in-person or virtually.

Providence is one of two school districts in Rhode Island that did not meet the five metrics needed to fully reopen in person. Peters recently released the district’s updated reopening plan, which will stagger the return of pre-K through fifth-grade students over the course of a week.

Peters said he was grateful the state held his district back and thanked Raimondo for taking a cautious approach.

“We are going to lead with safety first,” Peters added. “The stars are really aligning for us to have a great year. We are ready for our students, we are still making last-minute adjustments, but we are really excited for Sept. 14.”

Previous online forums:

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