WARWICK – Classes are set to resume on Monday, much of it remotely, since most city schools do not meet the basic criteria required to limit spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but Warwick fall athletics is back.
Tuesday night, the School Committee approved fall athletics, which begin Sept. 21. The sports include boys and girls’ cross country, soccer, field hockey, and tennis. Football and volleyball will be scheduled for March/April. Middle school sports are not being scheduled. The seasons will be abbreviated.
“I was heartened to see that the Governor did not ‘throw in the towel’ on our kids and is allowing Warwick students to engage in sports,” said Bachus, referencing Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s repeated criticism of Warwick’s mostly distance learning approach.
“Anyone who thinks that Warwick has not done their due diligence or has ‘thrown in the towel’, is sadly mistaken,” Bachus said.
State inspections reinforce Warwick Schools’ caution
Representatives of the state’s Department of Education recently did “walk-throughs” of all 20 school buildings with school administrators.
There were 38 requirements for schools, including screening at entrances by taking temperatures of students, the ability to maintain six feet of distance at all times, the presence of sinks in classrooms, the amount of cleaning supplies in classrooms, a sufficient number of masks, desks spaced out in the classrooms, and rooftop HVAC units.
“We don’t believe it’s safe to reopen schools,” said Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci, who supervised one of the four inspection teams.
Ferrucci explained 86 additional custodians were needed to keep the schools clean. To date, there have only been 15 applicants. The district has 20 “spray guns” to sanitize the buildings. That amounts to one per building.
“At the core of this is whether or not your buildings can comply with the state’s guidelines,” said school committee member David Testa. “There’s still a liability issue that’s hanging over everybody’s head because nobody at the federal or state level has gotten off their rear ends to decide what we do for liability if somebody gets sick from a chemical, a cleaning chemical or a disinfectant.”
Classes will be held at Veterans Middle School, the Career and Technical Center, and Drum Rock Elementary School. Superintendent Phil Thornton notes these schools are being used due to their air circulation systems. The other schools are not equipped to be used at this time, Ferrucci noted, due to the inability to “change” the air over on a regular basis. Classrooms without windows are also a problem since the air needs to be refreshed throughout the day.
All students will receive a bag filled with learning materials, which they will not be encouraged to share. Lunches will be bagged. Dismissal times will be staggered. Locker use is prohibited.
“Everybody’s working hard trying to figure out how we make this work,” Testa said. “We can make it work most of the way, but not all of the way. We all value in-person learning but if we can’t comply with the state’s guidelines, then who are we fooling?”
The committee voted on Aug. 11 not to reopen the schools and to institute distance learning instead due to the risk of students and staff being infected with coronavirus. Chairwoman Karen Bachus explained at the time that safety was their top priority.
Governor Raimondo has since repeatedly accused the committee of “throwing in the towel” on the district’s students.
Thornton told the School Committee Tuesday the installation of HEPA filters in the schools would be a “viable solution” to keeping schools safe from coronavirus.
“This is decades in the making,” Thornton said. “The pandemic exacerbated the conversation.”
Testa said the HEPA filters were “absolutely worth pursuing.”
Committee seeks $56M school repair bond
The school department is seeking voters’ approval of a $56 million bond for school repairs. $26.8 million will be designated for installing new heating and air conditioning systems for all elementary schools. $13.7 million will be used for windows and door replacements at all elementary schools, Warwick Vets Middle School, Winman Middle School, and Drum Rock.
About $6.5 million will pay for roof replacements at Drum Rock, Holliman, Scott, Warwick Neck, and Winman.
Another $3.7 million would be designated for curbing, paving, and sidewalks at 11 schools, including Holliman, Lippitt, Norwood, Wyman, Drum Rock, and Warwick Neck.
The bond referendum will appear on the Nov. 3 election ballot.
“I think this is money well spent,” said Testa, adding the upgrades would bring all the buildings into the 21st century.