Superintendents from eight Rhode Island school districts have written to Governor Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, saying they will open the school year with distance learning if their concerns about the safety of buildings aren’t addressed.
The Aug. 21 letter asks Raimondo and Infante-Green for “more direction from the state level” when it comes to reopening scenarios, and outlines a series of concerns, including the inability for some districts to secure cleaning supplies, air quality, and environmental conditions in schools.
“We cannot continue to wait for directions that have a significant impact on our communities’ finances, on our ability to plan solid instruction that addresses academic and social-emotional needs, and on our ability to maintain the health and safety of our staff and students,” the letter reads.
The letter was signed by the school superintendents in Coventry, Cranston, Johnston, Lincoln, Pawtucket, West Warwick, Warwick, and Woonsocket, as well as nine local union presidents.
The school year is expected to begin Sept. 14, and Raimondo said Monday that she will announce whether to move forward with in-person or distance learning by Aug. 31.
Raimondo also said the state is working with the National Guard to launch an “education operations center” that will help schools prepare to reopen and remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
District leaders across the state have privately grumbled about the state’s disorganized approach to reopening schools for much of the summer, but the letter marks the marks the first time that a group of officials from multiple communities has publicly voiced their frustration.
The letter states that Dr. Erin Bromage, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who has gained a large following from his writing about the coronavirus, emphasized ventilation, filtration, social distancing, and cleaning as the four areas of focus for reopening schools when he spoke to Rhode Island school leaders earlier this month.
“Based on Dr. Bromage’s four stated areas of concern, which are specific to the spread of COVID-19, we are unable to safely open our buildings,” the letter states. “We are not confident a delay will ameliorate these concerns.”
Raimondo has repeatedly advocated for students to return to the classroom, but she is facing growing resistance from parent groups, teachers, and now, district leaders.
The state has said statewide positive test rates, local positive test rates, testing capability, supply readiness, and operational readiness are among the factors it will consider when allowing districts to reopen.
But the superintendents’ letter stresses that districts are struggling to pay for supplies and they do not have the staffing in place to teach in-person and at home.
“We are not confident a delay will ameliorate these concerns,” the letter states.