WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Students of Pilgrim High School in Warwick rejoined the classroom with heavy hearts still mourning the sudden loss of their principal.

Grief counseling was made available to the student body returning from distance learning on Monday following the recent passing of Principal Gerald Habershaw.

Students were learning at home after a spike in covid cases that were linked to a homecoming dance from November 6.

The dance was held outside under a tent, but videos of that night showed the sides of the tents were lowered and several students were inside the building, not wearing masks with some serving themselves from a buffet. Current Rhode Island law requires mask-wearing while in K-12 public school buildings unless the students are eating or drinking.

Following the outbreak, an email from the Warwick Superintendent was sent to parents announcing that Pamela Bernardi will serve as acting principal “until further notice”. The email did not specify why the decision was made to appoint an acting principal.

Many parents and students expressed support for Habershaw following his removal from his position, with petitions being signed by thousands of people to save his job.

It was announced on November 27 that Habershaw, who was loved as a Principal and a coach for several years unexpectedly died.

Following the news, social media was flooded with condolences to his family and expressions of gratitude for who he was as a member of the community.

Habershaw started his career as a special education teacher at Pilgrim. He would also serve as an assistant principal at Aldrich Junior High School and principal of Warwick Veterans High School before returning to Pilgrim as principal.

“I knew Gerald Habershaw back when I was on the School Committee. He was devoted to his students and co-workers. He touched the lives of so many in this city. Our condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones. The city of Warwick is standing by to offer any support or help needed,” said Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi.

Hundreds of people gathered at the high school’s football field on Sunday night to celebrate Habershaw’s life with a candlelight vigil. A GoFundMe page was created to help Habershaw’s family to help with funeral costs.

A Mass of Christian Burial for relatives and friends will be held on December 4 in St. Kevin Church in Warwick. The mass will be live-streamed on youtube at 10:00 a.m. Visitation will be held at the Quinn Funeral Home in Warwick from 3:00 p.m – 7:00 p.m on December 3.

School officials confirm that Habershaw did have COVID when he passed away. He was 57 years old.