CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) are calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to temporarily halt in-person learning for K-12 students.
NEARI President Larry Purtill and RIFTHP President Frank Flynn are requesting a “holiday pause” in which schools statewide move to full distance learning by Monday, Nov. 23.
“Rhode Island is experiencing a record-high number of cases and an overwhelmed Department of Health, despite their best efforts, is falling behind with the required contact tracing that ensures effective quarantining and overall safety of students and educators,” Purtill said. “Districts already burdened and stretched thin are not equipped, nor do they have the capacity, to take on this duty.”
NEARI and RIFTHP also believe the arrival of colder weather will have a negative impact on health, safety, and instruction.
“Moving to distance learning through the holiday season will allow Rhode Island to get the virus under control, offer desperately-needed continuity in student learning, and equip empty buildings with necessary air filters for the colder months ahead,” Flynn said. “The conditions are right to take a pause now until we are better prepared to provide a safe and healthy environment for our students, educators, and support professionals.”
Both NEARI and RIFTHP say that a temporary move to remote learning is a “common-sense critical step in driving down incidence rates.”
“In August, NEARI and RIFTHP came together to call upon Governor Raimondo and the RI Department of Education to meet additional requirements for safety prior to the start of in-person learning and the governor responded,” Flynn added. “Here we are three months later in a COVID landscape that has gone beyond the original parameters put in place for reopening schools in September and has since exceeded nearly every data threshold.”
NEARI and RIFTHP are urging Raimondo to announce a statewide move to distance learning at her weekly press briefing on Wednesday in order to:
- Permit the Department of Health to catch up and stay current on contact tracing
- Monitor the availability of COVID-19 hospital beds
- Give the Department of Health the time needed to implement a weekly – or biweekly when medically indicated – COVID-19 testing program in all K-12 schools for both students and education professionals
- Allow for the delivery and safe installation of the thousands of HEPA air filtration devices ordered earlier in the school year – a welcome investment at a time when windows will need to close to the winter cold
- Allow for the deep cleaning necessary to protect students, families, and educators upon their return
In response to the unions’ request, R.I. Department of Education spokesperson Emily Crowell released a statement saying, “we will continue to work with the Department of Health and our colleagues across state government to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in Rhode Island.”
“We know that in-person learning is the best option for our kids and that our schools are following rigorous safety protocols in order to support our students and teachers who are in the classroom,” Crowell continued. “We appreciate the hard work and the dedication of our school leaders across the state, who have continued to meet the educational needs of our students despite challenges and changes.”