WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) says schools should immediately move to distance learning until at least next Tuesday as the state continues to see a high rate of new COVID-19 infections.

NEARI President Larry Purtill said they met with local union presidents last week to discuss how the return from winter break is going and “in many cases, it is not healthy or safe.”

“NEARI leadership has engaged in multiple conversations with the governor’s office as well as with various lawmakers and two things are abundantly clear,” Purtill said. “First, decision-making as to whether schools should remain open or move to distance learning will be made at the local level. Second, there is extraordinary pressure coming from the R.I. Department of Education and R.I. Department of Health to keep schools open for multiple reasons, most of which we support when safety and practicality are in place.”

Here is what NEARI wants to see happen going forward:

  • Superintendents need to be able to move to distance learning when staffing levels do not provide for a safe environment and/or absenteeism among students makes it difficult for productive in-person learning to take place.
  • Districts need to be able to move to distance learning if there are not KN95 masks available daily for all staff and students in the district. (Following current CDC guidelines for mask recommendations.)
  • Tests need to be available in every district for staff and student that require them, following CDC guidelines for testing. (If tests are not readily available as needed, districts need to be able to move to distance learning.)
  • During distance learning, access to breakfast and lunch must be available to all students.
  • During distance learning, students must have access to school-based health services, including mental health services.

The push for distance learning comes as new COVID-19 protocols for schools went into effect on Monday.

Vaccinated students and staff who are considered “close contacts” but don’t have any symptoms will now be able to remain in school and monitor for symptoms rather than quarantine at home.

Unvaccinated students and staff who are exposed to COVID-19 will still need to quarantine while outside of school, but can continue to attend class in person while monitoring for symptoms.

Students and staff who have or start to develop symptoms should isolate at home, contact a health care provider and get tested.

For those who test positive for COVID-19, the isolation period is now five days, with a return to school on the sixth day if the person has no symptoms, the symptoms are improving, or the person ahs been fever-free for 24 hours.

Warwick Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said the district is welcoming new protocols, but not adopting the guidance just yet.

School officials are waiting for an updated playbook from the state with the rules in writing before they implement the new procedures, according to Dambruch. She said they expect to receive that playbook on Jan. 10 and will begin implementing the new guidance the following Monday, Jan. 17.

“We wanted the time to communicate, like I said, with all the stakeholders so we all understand the expectations, we’re all following the guidelines consistently,” Dambruch added.

In Barrington, 12 News has learned schools will be adopting some of the new guidance from the state, but have chosen to cut down on quarantine rules and will re-evaluate when cases start to decline.