PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo is expected to announce a delay to the start of the school year in Rhode Island at her weekly coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, according to her office.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green confirmed Tuesday afternoon she has notified superintendents that teachers will now return Sept. 9, while the first day for students will be Sept. 14. The original start date was scheduled for Aug. 31.
In the letter sent to superintendents Tuesday, Infante-Green also said the final announcement about whether it’s safe for districts to reopen in person is expected the week of Aug. 31, instead of Aug. 17. State leaders had previously said they would announce next week whether it’s safe to reopen schools based on a list of metrics including testing capacity and municipal spread of COVID-19.
Raimondo’s press secretary, Audrey Lucas, said Tuesday the governor was getting feedback from K-12 school leaders that they needed more time to plan for reopening.
“Governor Raimondo’s top priority is ensuring that every school has the time it needs to fully implement critical safety measures for staff and students,” Lucas said. “As we approach the start of the school year, we have heard from school leaders that they would benefit from a couple more weeks to operationalize their plans for in-person learning.”
Infante-Green had also indicated the school year might be delayed in an interview with WPRI 12 earlier this month.
On an episode of Pulse of Providence released last week, Infante-Green described the logistics of planning for the school year as a “nightmare,” as districts work to offer virtual options and assign classrooms and bus routes based on social distancing guidelines.
“We have plans, but plans are going to have to shift,” Infante-Green said. “I’ve said from the very beginning that we are going to have to be flexible.”
Students will have to stay in school slightly later in June to make up for the delay; the school year for students is expected to be shortened by just three days to 177, while teachers will remain at 180 days.
The last day of school is now scheduled for June 25.
Rhode Island’s largest teachers unions are calling on Raimondo and Infante-Green to implement fully distant learning for the start of the school year, citing health and safety concerns.
“We believe it is the right approach and will allow time for further evaluation of health matrices, stakeholder input, and the educational needs of students on a district-by-district basis to allow for a transition to a hybrid learning model after the year begins and possibly a mostly in-person model later in the school year if and when it is safe,” the leaders of the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) wrote in the letter.
The unions had also called for the school year to be delayed until at least Sept. 9 in order to give school administrators more time to plan once an announcement is made about school reopening.
“Despite the constant pleas from the public to give us guidance, you have stubbornly chosen to wait until August 17 to issue a final back-to-school announcement rendering much of their work useless,” the union leaders wrote. “This valuable time could have been better spent honing our skills to better develop a distance learning model.”