PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — School officials gave 12 News a look inside the Feinstein Elementary School at Broad Street in Providence.
The district announced Tuesday it would be closing that building and Carl G. Lauro Elementary School at the end of the academic year.
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) said the closures were necessary with the facilities being in dire condition.
“Continuing to operate these schools keeps students in unacceptable school conditions, and this plan enables PPSD to better use the funds that would’ve been spent on maintaining poor facilities to instead be invested in creating 21st century learning environments,” RIDE Spokesperson Victor Morente said.
RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green told 12 News the announcement should be cause for celebration in the push to modernize the capital city’s schools.
“It actually breaks my heart to walk through these schools,” she said. “We have leaks in the roofs, bags in the roofs to try to seal some of those leaks. It’s just not a conducive learning space.”
The district announced the closures earlier than expected, after the Providence Teachers Union leaked the plans on social media last weekend. Staff were told at meetings at both the schools on Tuesday.
During the tour of the Feinstein building, Infante-Green and school officials noted a smell of sewage near the teachers lounge, leaking roofs, and abandoned relics from its time as a fallout shelter.
“Rather than spend $95 million repairing buildings that are like museums, like you stated earlier, they’re building 21st century learning environments that look very different than what is here now,” RIDE Chief Operating Officer Mario Carreño said.
Infante-Green said no staff will be without a job due to the closures. Teachers at the closing schools were told they would have to apply for new positions within the district in the spring. Union teachers will not be laid off and are guaranteed another position, according to the district.
Infante-Green said Wednesday that parents will be able to choose which school their kids are placed in.
“Through the preference form, families will be able to express where they would like to transition and the district will make every effort to meet their request,” Morente said in a statement. “Priority will be provided to allow siblings to attend the same school.”
Feinstein at Broad Street was built in 1895 and serves 277 students, while Carl G. Lauro on Federal Hill serves 475 students.
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Teachers, parents and Providence School Board members voiced their concerns regarding the school closures during a meeting Wednesday night.
“They’re not going to a brand new school in September, they’re going to get scattered to the wind, and I won’t be there,” teacher Carol Winter said. “Their friends won’t be there … and I can’t even tell them they’ll stay with their friends because I don’t know.”
“I’m getting emotional because these are my students and I have no answers to give them,” teacher Jennifer Dolan explained. “I’m their teacher and I should be there for them … how do I give them support when I don’t know where I’m going next year?”
Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro described the lack of communication between the district and those impacted by the closures as “disgusting.”
“There is collateral damage with this decision,” she said. “Damage to children, families, teachers and trust.”
Mayor-elect Brett Smiley said in a statement that, while enrollment trends sometimes lead to difficult decisions, the community should’ve been given the chance to speak up.
“Sensitive decisions like these require extensive community engagement, which we did not see here,” Smiley said. “Importantly, families, students and staff deserve answers to their questions about what comes next.”
Several Providence School Board members suggested Infante-Green table the matter until the district can gather community input.
Steph Machado contributed to this report.