PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the recent surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Rhode Island, some school districts are shifting to full remote learning for the time being.
East Providence Superintendent Kathryn Crowley announced on Twitter that beginning Monday, the district’s schools will switch to distance learning through Jan. 4.
Warwick Superintendent Philip Thornton, Ed.D., made a similar announcement Wednesday in an email to the school community, saying more than 300 students and faculty have either tested positive for the virus or are currently in quarantine.
“Additionally, the percent of individuals infected in the city of Warwick has been on the rise over the last several weeks with 8% positive cases during the week of November 8-14, and now up to 12% this week,” Thornton wrote.
Warwick students will learn from home until winter break begins on Thursday, Dec. 24, according to Thornton. He also mentioned that school buildings and administrative offices will remain open to anyone in need of assistance, and more information on grab-and-go lunches is forthcoming.
Those two districts join Cranston, Burrillville and West Warwick in switching to full distance learning. Crowley said the decision was made due to COVID-related staffing issues along with the increase in cases.
In the meantime, the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) voted Wednesday to push for a statewide shift to virtual learning. The state’s largest teachers’ union said the change is necessary since teachers and staff are spread so thin.
“We still believe in-school learning is best, but we are not doing in-school learning now. We are doing some horrible version of the hybrid situation where many students are opting out,” NEARI Executive Director Bob Walsh said.
According to Walsh, a mix of positive cases and quarantine guidelines have pulled many teachers out of the classroom and the substitute reserves are drained as well.
NEARI is requesting a temporary halt to in-person learning so districts can reset and be ready to go in the new year.
“Dr. Alexander-Scott might be looking down at her reports, but if she would look up, or got herself into a school building, she would see that this illusion that things are just working well is just false,” Walsh added.
Gov. Gina Raimondo and her team continue to stand by their claim that the science is on their side, suggesting there is little to no spread of the virus within schools, and if there is, the resources are in place to quickly mitigate that.
Walsh argues that community spread does not stop at the school door and hopes other districts will make the change soon.
“We want to make sure everyone gets to the finish line, and frankly, we want to make sure everyone wants to get to the finish line alive,” he said.
The Burrillville School District began distance learning on Wednesday after the school committee approved the superintendent’s recommendation to make the switch. The plan is to return to their hybrid model after winter break, depending on where the pandemic stands at that time.
Cranston Public Schools are starting virtual learning on Thursday. All of the district’s school buildings will be closed from Dec. 24 through at least Jan. 4.
West Warwick schools switched to remote learning last month and will continue through Tuesday, Dec. 22, according to Superintendent Karen Tarasevich.
Last month, there were dozens of cases within the school system along with a huge increase of both students and adult staff who needed to quarantine.
Woonsocket schools switched to remote learning the week after Thanksgiving and will not return to the classroom for the remainder of the calendar year.
NEARI is also asking the state to test every student and staff member upon their return to school, but state officials said they can’t make tests mandatory for students.