The School Committee voted Thursday night to approve a recommendation from Supt. Alexis Meyer to move students to distance learning Dec. 21 through Jan. 8. You can read about that meeting HERE. We caught up with Meyer Friday morning to ask a few more questions.
In the information Meyer shared Thursday, it appeared there were large staffing problems at Cole Middle School and EGHS as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – a “snapshot” slide of Thursday’s staff absences showed 15 absences at Cole. In reality, said Meyer, the staffing issues are happening across the district. And the slide did not include the 50 teachers and other staff members who are on leave or are otherwise out right now.
She noted she’s getting calls from teachers every day with a sniffle or a headache. The COVID-19 rules are, sniffles or a headache mean you have to stay home, even if in the past you would have thought nothing about going into work.
Meyer said the staff challenges were partly due to other districts deciding to move to distance learning. If an EG teacher has young children in a district that’s moved to distance learning – and many EG teachers do – that teacher is allowed to stay home with his or her children according to the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA). As of Thursday, these districts had already voted to move to distance learning: Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick, Coventry, Scituate, South Kingstown, Chariho, and East Providence.
Meyer said she did not think Gov. Gina Raimondo had been fair when she said derided districts that had moved to distance learning during her press briefing earlier Thursday, accusing them of “throwing in the towel.” The governor mentioned the state resources available to districts, including all the people who had volunteered to work as substitute teachers, but Meyer said very few of those people were actually available to substitute.
“Everybody is at a breaking point,” she said. “We’re all working day and night and trying to do whatever we can.”
She added, “I have incredible reverence for the educators in this district – all of them. The amount of work in making sure our students are learning and cared for is truly heroic.” Despite the challenges, “what’s happening is nothing less than remarkable.”
Meyer emphasized that distance learning today is far different from the experience last spring, when schools were shuttered and everyone was ordered home on just a couple days notice.
And, too, for some children with special needs, there is the option to remain in-person. The school buildings were closed in March, Meyer said. They will not be closed this time.
As to any fears this could stretch into a longer period of distance learning, Meyer said, “It’s very clear, our goal is to be back in Jan. 11.”
She also said she would be meeting with the state team as soon as next week to plan for asymptomatic testing at EG schools. Raimondo said Thursday they were hoping to have on-site testing available for districts in early January.
That coupled with the much-anticipated vaccine rollout will provide real relief for schools, Meyer said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”