Emails indicate tense conversations over reopening of Pawtucket schools

School Updates

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — After the Pawtucket School Committee voted to keep nearly all of the city’s students learning virtually for the remainder of the school year Tuesday night, newly obtained emails are shedding light on the discussion about the district’s conversation about reopening schools.

12 News obtained emails sent between Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams, and other school and city officials.

The conversation stems from a letter sent by R.I. Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, which outlined how each of the district’s concerns about school building were mitigated.

In the Jan. 6 letter, Infante-Green wrote it was “critical that the PSD team takes the necessary steps to ensure that their schools meet the standards of the reopening guidance in order to safely open schools in January, per the statewide calendar.”

“Our students and families deserve access to in-person learning opportunities and supports and are relying on PSD to provide safe in-person learning environments, which I’m sure are well underway,” she continued.

In an email thread obtained by 12 News, Pawtucket School Committee Chairman Jay Charbonneau expresses his frustration with the commissioner’s comments.

Charbonneau wrote “cheap shots” were thrown at the district, which Infante-Green wrote was “tracking towards a 1-star rating” based on the state’s new accountability system.

Further emails from Supt. McWilliams showed the various models for how Pawtucket students could complete the school year, including a full in-person return, partial return, limited return, or distance learning, but she did not indicate which model she was recommending to the school committee.

McWilliams wrote she wanted to wait to include the “review and discussion of the data along with the scenario plans” as well as any impacts, which were critical to making a decision.

“Any recommendation that I would make would take into account the concerns and comments of the school committee raised at the meeting and ultimately I understand they will make the decision that is in the best interest of our school community,” McWilliams wrote in an email late Monday night.

With no real answer less than a day before the meeting, Mayor Grebien said while he understood her position and hesitation “on making recommendations in these unprecedented times,” that residents deserve to know what she would be recommending to the school committee, hoping that process would be more transparent moving forward.

“With respect, I have to share with you that the lack of transparency and communication from the School Administration, is not fair to Pawtucket School Committee, Administration and the Pawtucket Community as a whole,” Grebien wrote in an email Tuesday morning.

Later Monday, the superintendent wrote her presentation was still incomplete, but that she would be recommending a phased reopening plan.

The school committee unanimously voted the proposal down, keeping grades 1-12 learning remotely through the end of the school year.

That decision isn’t sitting well with Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, including policy advocate Bernice Morris.

“If there is no option for the kids that are struggling with distance learning to go to school, that is a problem,” Morris said.

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