PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — As pressure mounts from state leaders and community groups to get students back into the classroom, the Pawtucket School Committee is set to discuss its reopening plan Tuesday evening.
Nearly all of the city’s students have been learning from home since the school year started. Only students in preschool, kindergarten, and special populations have been allowed to learn in-person.
The school committee had previously cited safety concerns in a majority of school buildings, from ventilation to electrical, and opted to have students learn remotely.
The decision met with criticism by Gov. Gina Raimondo who told the district to “try a little harder” to get children learning in-person again.
R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green told 12 News last week the buildings are in a position to prepare for students to come back.
In a letter to the school committee, she outlined how their concerns were addressed by the state, like HEPA filters being installed, and an electrician making sure the electrical system in each building could accommodate them.
“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.
According to Infante-Green, the state and district have agreed to conduct another walk through of the city’s school buildings on Jan. 20.
12 News reached out to Pawtucket School Committee Chairman Jay Charbonneau regarding Infante-Green’s letter, but he declined to comment until the meeting Tuesday night.
Monday evening, 12 News obtained a new statement from Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, which demands that the Pawtucket School District (PSD) complete the plan to return to in-person learning immediately.
BLM Rhode Island’s Executive Director, Brother Gary Dantzler, penned the letter, which noted how Pawtucket has the highest percentage of African American students “without the option of attending school in person,” adding “the racial disparity does not go unnoticed.”
According to the 2020 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, Black students make up 30% of the enrolled students in Pawtucket School District, the highest for public school districts in Rhode Island.
The UCAP School in Providence, a charter school, followed in second with 24% Black students enrolled.
“We know that COVID-19 has exacerbated education inequities and has disproportionately impacted the African American community here in Rhode Island,” Dantzler wrote. “This is of particular concern for communities like Pawtucket, that based on the state’s new accountability system is tracking towards a 1-star rating.”
“Black Lives Matter Rhode Island demands that PSD, the Pawtucket School Committee, the Mayor of Pawtucket, and all appropriate delegations begin work to open all public schools immediately, especially for elementary students,” he wrote. “Such a dereliction of duty and insensitivity for every single student in the entire Pawtucket School District can only be seen as complete negligence or complete intentionality. Neither is acceptable.”
The Pawtucket School Committee is set to meet on Jan. 12 at 6:30 pm at Jenks Junior School, but due to COVID-19, the school committee is urging the public to join the meeting virtually on Zoom.
Black Lives Matter Rhode Island says it will attend “to be the voice for families and students in Pawtucket.”