Letter to the Editor: Expand In-Person School to Middle, High Schools

by | Feb 24, 2021

Above: Students at Eldredge Elementary on the first day of school last September; elementary school students attend school five days a week.

[Remarks made by Peter Carney during public comment at the Feb. 23, 2021, School Committee meeting, submitted as a Letter to the Editor] 

The challenges faced by our community from the Covid pandemic have been enormous. There is no disputing that. It is a great success that we have our K-5 in school for 5 days. The benefits of which have been crystal clear to the EG families with both K-5 children and Cole or high school children. The clear difference in energy, interest, curiosity that I see each week leads me to conclude that we must do better for our middle and high school kids. And we must get to work on doing so now. 

The central hurdles preventing more in-person learning for middle and high school have regularly been laid out by the School Committee; 6 feet of distance and capacity levels at Cole and the high school, but there are examples in the U.S. of 3 feet plus masks working in various communities and this, plus all other options, need to be on the table for review immediately as we head into spring to show this community that the kids are truly our #1 priority. To this point, when considering the negative affects many of us are seeing compared to the extremely low health risk the kids face, it is hard to argue that they have been #1. A good place to focus for improvements in the coming weeks, in my opinion, would be Mondays. I understand why the district started with the Monday plan, but it has never been close to a full day for our middle school kids. I assume the same at the high school. Are we even meeting the required amount of weekly instruction when our kids are done by 10:30 a.m. on Mondays? I pose this question and a few more as some possible ways to measure just how important it is to chart a path to more in-class instruction.

Are we tracking data on how students are performing from first semester 2019 versus the 2020-21 school year? What percentage of students have maintained their grade levels from the fall of 2019? My guess is these numbers would be alarming. As we see many of our children’s interest and curiosity and energy towards school diminish, doesn’t it make the analysis of 3 feet and masks vs 6 feet and masks seem ridiculous? What is our #1 priority as a community? Much of our community understands how we got here, I believe, and It has been hard on everyone, but the effects on our kids from March 2020 thru today cannot be acceptable to anyone any longer. We can and must do better.

It is time for solutions-based leadership. It is time to line up the various subcommittees and interest groups and redirect the course towards overcoming our obstacles rather than being paralyzed by them. The risk of failure on our part far outweighs the health risks associated with a more robust in-person schedule. The CDC says exactly that, the data on in-school transmission being definitively lower than community transmission confirms it, and the social/emotional and academic effects that most of us are seeing on our kids, demands it. 

So many of the unknowns from the summer are known to us now. We thankfully have vaccines in the arms of some East Greenwich residents. We have seen an eye-opening 77 percent drop in Covid cases across the country in the past six weeks. This data leading to a notable opinion article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal where Dr. Makary of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health said, and I quote, “Covid may be very scarce by April . . . and as we encourage everyone to get a vaccine, we also need to reopen schools and society to limit the damage of closures and prolonged isolation. Contingency planning by April can deliver hope to those in despair and to those who have made large personal sacrifices.”

We are in historically challenging times for sure; our School Committee, our teachers, our children and each of us in our homes and in our workplaces are facing these challenges every day. And overcoming any great challenge requires courageous leadership and an acceptance of some risk. 

It is time for both. 

I believe you have a clear majority in this community ready to help.

Peter Carney lives in East Greenwich and has four children in East Greenwich public schools.

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