WARWICK, RI – The Warwick School Committee approved a return to full week in-person learning for Kindergarten through Grade 5 during their Friday morning meeting, with a start date to be set by the Committee.
“We need to do this as safely as possible,” said Vice-Chair Judy Cobden, noting social distancing protocols had to be observed.
Assistant Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said Friday the schools were not ready to reopen due to staffing shortages. Building aides are needed, she said.
Superintendent Phillip Thornton told the School Committee it was their responsibility to provide direction.
“We can’t fill jobs that don’t exist yet,” Thornton said. “We can’t move forward until you tell us to move forward.”
The Committee delayed a vote on sending Grade 6 students back to Veterans Middle School and Winman Middle School. They are waiting for more information from the school department before making a decision on Tuesday.
Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said she was “very disturbed” by comments made by Acting Principal Melissa Centracchio made to the Warwick Beacon last week about Vets reopening.
“That was completely inappropriate,” Bachus said. “She didn’t have permission that I know of, from what I’ve been told, she didn’t have permission to speak to the press. The committee knew nothing. She also didn’t have as far as I know, permission to send out letters saying that the 6th graders would be going back.”
Bachus asked Thornton if he knew about Centracchio’s letter.
“Our understanding was you took a vote to send (6th graders) back. That’s what we’re moving towards. We did nothing nefarious after we acted upon your vote,” Thornton said. “No plan to hide the ball on this.”
“Miss Centracchio did not have authority from anyone to speak to the Beacon. Mr. Superintendent, you need to send out a memo. That needs to stop,” Bachus responded. “I think that all of us in this meeting today feel that it was very important to bring both Winman and Vets at approximately the same time. I think we put the cart before the horse there.”
A proposal to allow Grade 6 to return to Vets while keeping Grade 6 Winman students at home drew a rebuke from Committee member Nathan Cornell.
“It’s not fair to the Winman students,” Cornell said. “It’s just wrong. We can’t do that.”
Cornell also expressed his dismay at the survey sent out to Grade 6 students.
“None of us on the School Committee knew about this,” Cornell noted. “I also don’t appreciate how (the Committee) took a vote a few weeks ago regarding the Vets’ 6th grade which was not to open schools, it was just to further address the issue. We didn’t authorize you to go forward with this and if we didn’t have this meeting today, you would have opened the schools next week and it’s just not right and I’m very unhappy with how all this came about.”
Darlene Netcoh, the President of the Warwick Teachers Union, urged the Committee to halt a return to Grade 6 at Vets on Nov. 18.
“Covid-19 is resurging in Rhode Island so now is not the time to bring teenagers back to a large school without stable pods,” Netcoh wrote. “Returning Grade 6 Vets students to in-person learning and not returning Winman Grade 6 students to in-person learning is unfair and inequitable.”
Bachus said students would not be returning to in-person learning until at least Dec. 1, after all the air purifiers have been installed in the schools.