PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo is urging the Pawtucket School Committee to rethink their decision to keep most of the district’s students learning remotely for the remainder of the year.
“If you are in some place where you are denying your children an in-person education, a high-quality education, particularly the youngest learners, I’m asking you, from the bottom of my heart, to reconsider,” she said during her weekly coronavirus briefing Wednesday.
The committee’s decision means the majority of Pawtucket students will be learning remotely for a year and half, from March 2020 until September 2021, assuming school buildings reopen in the fall.
This isn’t the first time Raimondo has criticized the city’s school officials. Last October, she expressed her disappointment in the district, urging the school committee to “try a little harder.” Her comments drew ire from the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance, who demanded she apologize for her remarks.
The Pawtucket School Committee has consistently stated that it does not feel it’s safe for students to return to the classroom, despite mounting pressure from the state to do so.
“There are no studies on what reopening schools does when transmission rates are so high,” Erin Dube, the committee’s deputy chair, said.
Last week, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green wrote a letter to the committee outlining how their concerns were addressed by the state.
“I’ve done my due diligence,” she said. “I have addressed every single concern, and I have made my position pretty clear. We need to have kids in the classroom safely.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams laid out a potential plan to gradually allow students to return to the classroom.
Her plan would begin with pre-K through 5th grade returning in February, followed by 6th through 12th grade in March. But despite her recommendation, the committee voted unanimously to keep students in grades 1-12 learning remotely.
The committee’s decision isn’t sitting well with some parents. Jennifer, who has two kids in the school system who are struggling with distance learning, tells 12 News it “infuriated” her.
“It’s unfair to our children in this city, to all children,” she added. “Our kids are not getting educated the way that they need to.”
She demanded the committee reconsider their decision for the sake of the district’s children.
“I don’t want them to. I need them to,” she said.
Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance President Ronald Beaupre believes the committee made the right call.
“While we all agree that an in-person instructional model is most effective, the safety and wellbeing of students and staff must be the utmost priority,” he said in a statement. “With that in mind, the Pawtucket School Department has committed to providing a remote learning model that is both responsible and effective.”
While the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance applauded the move, Mayor Donald Grebien called it “concerning.”
“As leaders we have to do better for our kids and families to provide in-person learning whenever possible,” he said in a statement. “The superintendent had recommended a more substantial reopening plan that would lead to all students having the opportunity to return for in-person learning. Also, RIDE has made it clear that they believe a more robust return is feasible.”
Despite this, Grebien said he trusts the committee in its decision-making.
“I am a full-throated supporter of this committee and believe in their commitment to Pawtucket’s youth,” he said.
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