PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The Pawtucket School Committee is meeting next week to discuss when students can safely return to school in person.
Nearly all of the city’s students have been learning virtually since the start of the school year. The Pawtucket School Committee opted to keep students learning virtually due to safety concerns discovered in 12 of the city’s 16 school buildings.
Gov. Gina Raimondo sharply criticized the school committee’s decision, which drew ire from the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance when she urged the district to “try a little harder.”
At this point, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said there’s no reason that students can’t return to the classroom.
“Every concern that the district had has been mitigated,” she said. “The only concern we have now as a system is that Pawtucket has not put into place their mitigation to come back in person.”
In a letter to the Pawtucket School Committee, Infante-Green outlined how their concerns were addressed by the state.
“There was a lot of concern about electricity, not being able to carry the electrical load,” Infante-Green said. “The state paid for an electrician to come in, who said that’s not the case, there is more than enough. The electricity can be handled by the HEPA filters that can be given to the schools.”
12 News reached out to Pawtucket School Committee Chairman Jay Charbonneau regarding Infante-Green’s letter, but he declined to comment until the meeting, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.
Infante-Green said the ball is now in the school committee’s court. In the letter, she said the state and district have agreed to conduct another walkthrough of the city’s school buildings on Jan. 20.
“They are the only district in the state that has not come back, so there is really no reason other than they are making that decision,” Infante-Green said. “There is no reason in terms of electricity, buildings, infiltration, none of that is an issue at this point.”
She argues that students in Pawtucket should have the option to return to in-person learning if they so choose.
“I would hope that the [school committee] does its best for their community,” Infante-Green said. “We heard that 30% of the parents want to go virtual, but I’m really more concerned about the 70% of parents.”
“Pawtucket is a district that is struggling already,” she continued. “It is unfortunate that they make decisions of what is not in the best interest of what kids need.”
12 News reached out to Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams and the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance for comment on the letter, but has not heard back.