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Thornton: Elementary Classes Return First This Fall

[CREDIT: Zoom screenshot] Superintendent Phil Thornton said elementary classes return first in his plan for the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[CREDIT: Zoom screenshot] Superintendent Phil Thornton said elementary classes return first in his plan for the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
[CREDIT: Zoom screenshot] Superintendent Phil Thornton said elementary classes return first in his plan for the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
WARWICK, RI — This fall, elementary classes return first, Superintendent Phil Thornton said Tuesday as he updated the Warwick School Committee on his collaboration with state education officials on reopening plans.

Warwick school buildings have been closed for the past three months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with teachers and students focused on “distance learning,” — telecommute classes. The last day of classes for the 2019-2020 school year is June 15 for most Warwick schools. The last day for Toll Gate and the career center is June 18.

Superintendent Phil Thornton said he’s discussed the situation with state’s Department of Education officials. He told the Warwick School Committee his goal is to re-open elementary schools first.

Reopening the middle and high schools is more problematic because one of the approaches to hosting in-person classes again is to have “pods” or groups of students who do not move, Thornton said, noting that is easier to accomplish at the elementary level.

A June 15 meeting will be held to work out the details of how to organize schools to allow for social distancing and other health precautions.

“It is evolving,” Thornton said. “We’re looking to make sense of the guidelines and see what’s practical for us for the fall.”

Committee member David Testa said he believes secondary schools remaining closed would be a “gigantic problem with a tremendous ripple effect.”

“My fear is also that distance learning is going to come back for the secondary levels heavily and as much as I like it in an emergency, it is a less than ideal form of teaching for a whole bunch of teachers and students,” Testa said.

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“I hope that those people at the highest of levels can get their acts together and give some real concrete guidance as to what districts are expected to do. Keeping it vague doesn’t help anyone,” he added.

“If the decision is made that we’re going to have to check the temperatures on all the students coming into the buildings, we’re going to need devices,” noted Anthony Ferrucci, chief budget officer for the district. ‘Those kind of expenses have not been budgeted at all.”

The Committee also voted not to put $1.4 million into the pension contribution fund, citing budget concerns. The Warwick City Council approved a $323.5 million budget, with an additional $2 million for schools added in by Mayor Joseph J. Solomon, on May 30. The increase was still $6,327,732 less than the Warwick School Department’s requested $177,886,400.

On Wednesday morning, Thornton said the $6 million deficit will be the subject of a special meeting in July, which has not yet been scheduled.

Meanwhile, Warwick Schools’ capital projects plan, Bond Projects Phase II, was approved for state housing aid support by RIDE May 27.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the school committee adopted a $56 Million Bond Phase II Capital Projects Plan by a vote of 5-0. The revised capital plan took into account the current educational consultant’s project of analyzing the district’s high schools as well as the priorities of capital needs within the elementary and middle school buildings.

“(RIDE) were excited about the projects we’re taking on. They were happy to see we’re continuing the momentum we started,” Ferrucci noted.

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The Bond Phase II K-8 Capital Projects Plan includes $6,561,600 for roofs, $26,613,000 for HVAC/Mechanicals, $13,702,722 for Building Envelope, and $2,304,000 for abatement.

The bond referendum has to be placed on a ballot to be voted on for the November 2020 election.

The committee also adopted new policies regarding student attendance, dismissals, and suspensions:

The Warwick Public Schools asserts that the rate of attendance necessary to meet these goals is ninety-five percent. The only exception to the attendance policy shall be extenuating circumstances verified by school personnel. These include: Extended/chronic personal, physical, or emotional illness as verified by a physician or dentist, extended hospital stay as verified by a physician or dentist, extended recuperation from an accident as verified by a physician or dentist, or extended contagious disease within a family as verified by a physician or dentist.

All schools in the Warwick School Department, at the discretion of each school’s Building Level Administrator, or other authorized school administrator, may suspend a student for:

  1. Violating written school rules, including but not limited to, the Student Handbook, Student Discipline Code, the Statewide Bullying Policy, or school committee policies to the extent that those school regulations relate to the rights set forth above, or where a student represents a threat to those rights of students, teachers, or administrators.”
Joe Siegel
Author: Joe Siegel

Joe Siegel is a regular contributing writer for WarwickPost.com. His reporting has appeared in The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro and EDGE.