CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — One local lawmaker wants to put a plan in place for students to continue to learn outside of the classroom if schools are forced to close because of the coronavirus.
Representative Joseph McNamara, Chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, is asking the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to establish remote learning protocols if public schools are impacted.
St. Raphael Academy, under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Providence, not RIDE, will be closed for another week as two of the state’s three cases of coronavirus are linked to the school’s recent trip to Italy.
“With the possibility that the coronavirus (CORVID-19) could disrupt school-based learning, emergency remote learning approval may allow for the continuation of education for our students. I believe it would also be helpful if the Rhode Island Department of Education could advise local school districts of best practices in remote learning and possible model programs,” Rep. McNamara wrote in a letter to Commissioner of Education Angelica Infante-Green.
RIDE recently said that if schools close due to coronavirus concerns they’ll have to request a waiver, or else the days out would have to be made up at the end of the year, as do snow days.
Health workers predict community transmission of the virus to be imminent, so Rep. McNamara wants the Department of Education to be prepared.
“When you have plans in place, whether it be for education or business, people are more comfortable,” he said. “We have legislation that allows school departments to apply for a remote-learning waiver. This request is to put in some protocols where a school system can say, ‘Here’s what we want to do.’ All of our kids have chrome books at the secondary level. There’s already a lot of what’s called blended-learning taking place in the state.”
In a statement, RIDE spokesperson Pete Janhunen addressing Rep. McNamara’s concerns:
We appreciate Rep. McNamara’s calling attention to this important issue. A state law passed in 2017 does allow for the approval of virtual learning plans by the Council for Elementary and Secondary Education. Plans may be submitted at any time for consideration. To date, RIDE and the Council have not approved any plans. We have set the standard appropriately high because we want to ensure that virtual learning plans serve all students and work for all families, with a particular focus on equity of access. We encourage and will support the Local Education Agencies in making virtual learning plans. While we have not received any recent requests, we sent them a reminder regarding how to apply for virtual learning plans and support available from RIDE on Friday.”
Rep. McNamara acknowledges this would be easier for secondary education since elementary school students would require a daycare option with access to the proper education resources if school is closed.