‘People are scared’: RI teachers’ union says new school restrictions are inadequate

School Updates

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The state has directed all high schools to limit the number of students in their buildings following Thanksgiving, but the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) argues the move doesn’t go far enough.

In a letter recently sent to superintendents, the Rhode Island Department of Education asked all high schools to move to the “limited in-person” plans they submitted over the summer starting Nov. 30, which would bring the buildings to no more than 25% capacity.

“We know that our high school students function and live very differently than our younger students outside of school (i.e. jobs, sports, etc.) and want to make sure that we account for those factors,” the letter reads.

Both NEARI and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) recently called upon Gov. Gina Raimondo to temporarily halt in-person learning for K-12 students throughout the holidays, arguing that the arrival of colder weather will have a negative impact on health, safety and instruction.

“People are scared,” NEARI’s Bob Walsh said. “We’re doubly frustrated because no one is listening to us.”

Raimondo recently doubled down on her on her assertion that the coronavirus is not spreading throughout Rhode Island schools, stating that there is no evidence in Rhode Island or any other state that suggests rampant spread in schools.

When asked why the new restrictions are only affecting high school students, Raimondo said, “the only places where we have had 10 or more cases have been in the high schools.”

During her weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday, she said she refuses to budge when it comes to placing additional restrictions on elementary and middle schools.

“About this we cannot argue,” she said. “There is a 100% certainty that children will be sicker, mentally, physically and emotionally, if they are out of school.” 

Walsh said he wants Raimondo to take it a step further, especially since many schools are dealing with staffing shortages from quarantines and delays in contact tracing.

“We don’t disagree in-person learning is best, but in person learning is not happening the way it should happen,” Walsh said. “We don’t have enough teachers and education support profesdsionals to safely staff the schools.”

Raimondo admitted that the system is not perfect, adding that she will make any necessary changes if the data started to suggest otherwise.

“If more data comes out in a week or a month that says I am wrong, then we will make a change,” she said.

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