WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Though having previously considered a hybrid model, the Warwick School Committee voted 4-1 to have students start the academic year learning from home.
The vote, held during a virtual meeting Tuesday night, comes ahead of the Rhode Island Department of Health’s formal announcement on whether schools can return to full in-person classes or not.
That announcement, originally expected by Aug. 17, has been pushed back two weeks after Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green informed superintendents that the first day of school would be delayed until Sept. 9 for teachers and Sept. 14 for students.
Gov. Gina Raimondo at her weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday says she is not happy with the Warwick School Committee’s vote to send students back to school remotely.
“I could not be more disappointed in the vote that they took,” the governor said. “They just threw in the towel on those kids. I think the children of Warwick deserve better. They didn’t even submit a plan for in-person learning.”
Karen Bachus, who chairs the Warwick School Committee, said by approving the measure to opt for distance learning, she would charge the superintendent to explore in-person learning “of some sort” if possible for students with IEPs, alternative assessments, and career and technical education.
She says Warwick’s “in-person plan” is a hybrid model and that she stands by the vote, because she believes it was the only safe option.
“We did not provide a full 100% return, because we do not have the space nor the circulation to bring that many people to a classroom,” Bachus said. “If the governor can give us a plan, give us the money, we can talk, but right now my duty is to keep our students and our teachers and our families safe, that is the bottom line.”
David Testa was the one committee member who opposed the measure. He went on record to say while he didn’t disagree with opting for distance learning, he was not sure if Tuesday was the night to make the call.
“Everything changes by the minute, and I understand what parents have to plan for because last year I was a parent and I had to plan for the closure of school, too,” Testa said during Tuesday’s meeting.
After confirming Rhode Island students would start school a week after Labor Day, the state’s largest teachers unions – the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) and Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) – spoke out in a virtual meeting, calling on the state to start the school year with all distance learning.
“We agree with the delay. We need to focus on the one plan we think makes sense for all the reasons we have articulated in the letter,” NEARI Executive Director Bob Walsh said.
The letter, sent to Raimondo, Infante-Green, and state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, cites results of a union poll with parents and teachers.
The unions said the survey they conducted shows 54% of parents and 64% of teachers were very concerned about physically returning to school in the fall.
“We would much rather be sending our students back to school, that is the best possible option, but we also have to make sure it is safe,” NEARI President Larry Purtill said.
Bachus says that parents in Warwick should plan for distance learning until further notice. She says if there is a vaccine or a cure, then things will be reconsidered.