PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Pawtucket remains the only school district in Rhode Island to keep nearly all of its students learning from home, leaving many parents feeling aggravated and out of options.
The Pawtucket School Committee voted last week to continue its full distance learning plan for the remainder of the school year.
The decision means the majority of Pawtucket students will be learning remotely for a year and half, from March 2020 until September 2021, assuming school reopens in person in the fall.
Dr. Joseph Braun, a professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health, has seen the effects of long-term distance learning firsthand. His daughter, who’s in first grade, has been learning remotely since March.
“You can’t force human interaction over a Zoom call,” he said. “”It seems like they have dug their heels in it every chance they have gotten to not reopen.”
While Braun is the first to admit he’s not an expert on the coronavirus, he said he’s in-tune with the science behind it all and feels as though he’s running out of options.
“I don’t have a choice of what to do otherwise as of now, aside from moving, which I’m not going to do,” he said. “I feel like I am letting my daughter down if I don’t get them to get her into school, and I have to keep trying no matter what here.”
Pamela Ramsey, who has three children in the school system, is just as frustrated.
Ramsey’s children are in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade. She said her two younger children have been given the option to return to school in person under the district’s guidance, but her first grader has been forced to continue learning at home.
She said her oldest son has fallen behind in school due to distance learning, and he’s confused as to why his siblings can return in person but he can’t.
“What about a couple days a week?” Ramsey questioned. “What about even trying?”
Prior to the committee’s decision, Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams laid out a potential plan to gradually allow students to return to the classroom, which would begin with pre-K through fifth grade returning in February, followed by sixth through twelfth grade in March.
But despite her recommendations, the committee voted unanimously to keep students in grades 1-12 learning remotely.
Braun said the committee’s reasoning behind the decision just doesn’t add up.
“The concerns raised about disrupting children’s lives by sending them back to school now, in some ways, is by their own design because they chose not to reopen schools in the first place back in September when everyone else did,” Braun said.
Braun and Ramsey are not alone — a recently-created Facebook group called the Pawtucket Parents Alliance is gaining traction on social media. The page claims the city’s school department is “unresponsive” and states “Our school committee doesn’t represent our community.”
The district isn’t just getting flak from parents, however. The R.I. Department of Education has persistently pressured the committee to allow students to return to school in person, especially after all of their safety concerns were addressed by the state.
“Pawtucket is a district that is struggling already,” Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green previously told 12 News. “It is unfortunate that they make decisions of what is not in the best interest of what kids need.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo has also consistently criticized the district, urging them last week to rethink their decision.
Ramsey also hopes the district will reconsider and do what’s best for the city’s children.
“I know they are bringing back the pre-K and kindergarten, but isn’t my first grader still vulnerable? Aren’t the second graders still vulnerable?” she said.