2 RI districts cancel mid-term exams as schools struggle with COVID-19

School Updates

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — For Rhode Island schools, this has been the worst week yet in terms of the pandemic, according to the head of the state’s largest teachers union.

“We are at the peak of omicron this week,” said Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI).

Health officials estimate the coronavirus variant is responsible for roughly 90% of new COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, and many schools are dealing with widespread absences among students and teachers.

Some districts have had to shift to distance learning temporarily as a result, and many are weighing whether to do so on a longer-term basis.

In a letter to parents, Warwick Public Schools announced that mid-term exams have been canceled at all of the city’s high schools due to rising case counts and unfinished learning.

Barrington school officials told 12 News their high school is doing the same.

While it’s a lost opportunity to gauge students’ learning, Walsh called it a “relatively moderate issue in the grand scheme of things.”

“What absolutely has had a dire effect is COVID-19’s impact on education,” he said. “Districts need the flexibility to go to distance learning.”

Earlier this week, NEARI called for schools to move to distance learning until at least next Tuesday, saying the return from winter break has not been healthy or safe in many cases. The union believes decisions on distance learning should be made at the local level.

Portsmouth High School is going remote for the rest of the week due to a staffing shortage caused by COVID-19, while Pilgrim High School in Warwick is facing the same issue, with more than two dozen teachers out on Wednesday.

“When you’ve got superintendents covering classrooms and principals covering classrooms, you know that you’re stretched to the limit,” Walsh added. “If you’re doing it with a rotating staff, you’re not getting the robust educational outcomes you want to get.”

The R.I. Department of Health updated its quarantine and isolation guidelines for K-12 schools last week, which included different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff, as well as a new “monitor to stay” program.

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