WARWICK, RI – Despite the state’s COVID-19 cases hurtling beyond the threshold set by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo for safely opening schools, most parents want in-person classes, which Warwick Schools Committee have delayed till Jan. 4, and perhaps later, if cases continue climbing.
According to a survey the Warwick School District sent to elementary school parents, 70.5 percent of elementary school parents preferred in-person learning, while 29.5 percent wanted remote learning, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Dambruch told the Warwick School Committee during Tuesday night’s meeting.
“We don’t know the future of the virus,” said Dambruch. “Parents are making a commitment. That’s why it’s so difficult. We need to start preparing and make sure we have enough staff.”
There were 1,355 responses to a separate middle school survey. Respondents were parents of Veterans Middle School and Winman Middle School students.
About 46.6 percent wanted four-day, in-person learning. Another 34.6 percent preferred distance learning. Another 18.8 percent selected a hybrid model.
Supt. Phil Thornton said the district has enough staffing for classes despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the state, though he added that replacing cleaning staff that either test COVID-19 positive or are quarantined by the pandemic is a challenge.
“I am concerned that the positivity rate is climbing right now in the City of Warwick,” Thornton said, referencing state data that put Warwick’s COVID-19 percent positivity rate at 8 percent two weeks ago and 10 percent this week.
“I want to assure families that we wouldn’t start four-day, in-person, when the virus is increasing, you know, in numbers,” Dambruch said. But the survey responses are needed, she explained, to properly plan for a return to in-person classes if and when the district returns to that.
“As a school committee member, I support your call, because you’re the one entrusted to run the district,” said School Committee member David Testa.
School Committee member Nathan Cornell asked Dambruch if it would be possible to make the specific number of COVID-19 cases in each school public, so that concerned parents are able to make more informed choices about whether to send their children into the buildings.
“Yes, that is possible,” Dambruch said. She said most principals send out messages to their school communities, “but we could put those cases together and send them those statistics.”
“I know a lot of parents, they’re concerned with that, and they just don’t know what environment they’re sending students into,” Cornell said.
Nonetheless, Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teacher’s Union, urged the committee to follow the lead of other school districts and stay with distance learning.
“In Rhode Island, the number of cases of COVID-19 is rapidly increasing. More and more patients are occupying beds in the field hospitals. Rhode Island is making national news for the rate in which Covid-19 is spreading in the state.,” she said. “There are now studies and reports that show that children can contract and transmit the virus.”
Committee OKs two-week advance prep for moving Special Ed
Jennifer Connolly, Director of Special Services, asked the school committee for permission to begin moving Special Education programs from Warwick Veterans Middle School back to their original schools about two weeks before Warwick Veterans and other secondary schools reopen for in-person classes.
“We can’t open Vets fully until the special education classrooms that are there move back to their home schools,” Connolly said. “It appears that the middle schools would be opening before the high schools so that would make it a little bit easier.”
“We need to move this along,” Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said, noting Connolly was asking for permission to make the move before the committee set a school reopening date.
When member Nathan Cornell suggested a motion stating Connolly could not take any action until a reopening date was approved, Bachus interjected.
“She’s already said that. It’s in the minutes. She’s not going to do that, Mr. Cornell. Now, it sounds like you’re having issues. Maybe we need to talk about that separately, but not in a full meeting, please.”
“I have no reason to distrust or see anything wrong with this,” said Testa.
The Committee approved Connolly’s request 5 – 0.
School repair bond release, repairs, continue
Also approved was a third cash release from the $40 million Bond Phase I voter authorization in the amount of $8.9 million.
Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci said the school department was “on target” to complete all the projects in a five-year period. There will be four school roofs installed, 18 different interior renovations, and an asbestos abatement. All work will take place in the summer of 2021.
The committee approved nearly $4 million to be drawn from the $56 million Bond Phase 2, which was authorized by city voters on Nov. 3.
Another $1.3 million will go towards a roof replacement for Holliman Elementary School. The remaining funds will pay for 18 projects to be undertaken in the summer of 2022. These will consist of site work – paving and drainage, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing upgrades at Greenwood, Oakland Beach, and other schools.