I write to thank the approximately 350 members of the community who attended Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, and to clarify my position on reopening our schools. My husband and I have had to wrestle with the same decision for our own children attending EG schools. We chose full distance learning for my 11th grade daughter, not knowing exactly what distance learning would look like, but knowing that, unlike last spring, she can work in small groups of friends, and that she can opt back in second semester. We chose in-person learning for my 5th grade son, not knowing whether that meant “full in-person” (which could have been either be four or five days), or a hybrid model – but certain that he needs to be in a brick and mortar school as much as is safe and practicable. As confusing as this is to the community, it is only slightly less confusing to us.
I fully support the staggered reopening plan presented by our superintendent, and supported by our school nursing staff. The plan as presented will give our students and personnel the opportunity to adjust to the many new protocols required to mitigate risk in this COVID-19 environment. Our governor fully supports – indeed, suggested – this type of phase-in approach. As of Tuesday night’s meeting, I was not willing to commit to a “full in-person” scenario – erroneously named, as (a) distance learning will continue for those who chose it 100 percent, and who otherwise must be out temporarily for Covid reasons; and (b) the middle and high schools will remain in a hybrid model for the foreseeable COVID-19 future. (The nomenclature comes from RIDE, and is frustratingly – but characteristically – misleading.)
The School Committee has not received enough information to determine whether the district can resume “full in-person” learning while abiding by state and federal health and safety guidelines for COVID-19.
Although the question was asked at a School Committee meeting last week whether we meet health and safety guidelines in an all-in scenario (and the answer was yes, assuming we are comfortable with three feet of distance), we have since heard reports from numerous teachers that many classrooms do not allow even three feet of distance between and among students and teachers. We do not have full clarity on the number of elementary students that will be contained in a single classroom for the better part of six hours per day, three feet apart, with masks off during mandated in-class lunch, and presuming brief mask-removals because our kids will have to speak and be understood. We have not confirmed that each classroom setup in an all-in scenario is compliant with fire codes. How do we reconcile the governor’s directive to “take it outside” with security protocol around active school shooters? (On March 14, 2018, the student-driven National Walk-Out Day to protest school shootings, EGHS students and faculty agreed that students would be permitted to “walk out” only to the fully-enclosed courtyard, to ensure the school maintained “a level of security consistent with normal operations,” according to then-principal and current Assistant Superintendent Michael Podraza.) Will the district be forced to run a deficit this year to cover the cost of COVID-19 mitigation, given that federal and state funding is uncertain, and the state funding formula works against us? It’s a distinct possibility, even if we exhaust our reserves. We need fiscal clarity, and we need to be prepared.
Our school and district staff and administrators continue to work tirelessly to make school happen this year, and to make it better than last spring. I still have many questions about our reopening, and will continue to advocate for public meeting time sufficient to allow community discussion, and sufficient to vet these issues as fully as possible under these unprecedented circumstances. I am concerned about the health and safety of my children, my husband, and my elderly relatives. As a member of the School Committee, I share a responsibility for the health and safety of our 2,600 students, our faculty and staff, and in this COVID environment, that responsibility extends to the families of students and staff, and the East Greenwich community at large.
I would love nothing more than to send all of our kids back to school – especially my own. In person. Full-time. I look forward to receiving enough information in the coming weeks to make the right decision.
Please feel free to email or call me directly with questions, concerns, and feedback.
Member, East Greenwich School Committee
[email protected]; (917) 363-3146
If you would like to submit a Letter to the Editor, send it to [email protected] and put “letter to the editor” in the subject line. Letters may be shortened and edited for clarity.