WARWICK, RI – Warwick Schools students will soon be returning to four-day in-person instruction at the secondary level as COVID-19 cases rise.
On Tuesday, the School Committee approved the plan, offered by William McCaffrey, the Director of Special Education, who recommended the four day in-person return for middle school and high schools.
Mondays will be designated for department nights, AP coursework, and the teacher evaluation process.
The committee also approved a return for pre-school students at Warwick Early Learning Center (WELC) for four days a week in-person learning. It will begin after the April school vacation break.
“I’m very glad that you’re going with a realistic proposal,” Vice-Chair Nathan Cornell said to McCaffrey.
Cornell noted receiving e-mails from parents stating it wasn’t “logistically possible” for students to return to five days a week instruction.
Cornell also criticized Superintendent Phil Thornton for sending out a message to parents in March, in which he claimed the committee was planning to vote for four and a half days of in-person instruction.
“I think it was completely irresponsible,” Cornell said. “The School Committee didn’t know about it. I think it deceived a community because we did not take a vote in March and we’re not taking that vote now.”
Thornton said numerous e-mails were sent out to the community.
“We’re looking at all the variables,” Thornton said. “Never an intention to put the Committee in a bad spot but you have to know where to start from, Mr. Cornell. If the chair and vice-chair are uncomfortable with our communications, they can approve all future communications going out. That’s fine with me.”
Cobden also received angry communications from parents asking why four and a half days of in-person learning had not appeared on the Committee’s meeting agenda.
“It’s a very touchy environment right now and we have people wanting all different things,” Cobden explained. “It makes it even more complicated when someone read (the Superintendent’s letter) wrong or not. I think we need to be more careful in what we send out.”
McCaffrey said 300 students were coming into the high schools on a daily basis. Right now, 17 students and 2 adults are allowed in each classroom.
McCaffrey said the schools aren’t close to having those numbers so an increase in students returning could be accommodated.
Thornton also explained how attendance had not lived up to expectations. A district-wide survey had been conducted to gauge the amount of interest students had in returning to in-person learning.
“You can walk around our high schools on any day and see around five students in a room,” Thornton noted. “Our survey said there would be many more students at the high school level,” Thornton said. “They didn’t come. Our numbers are so low right now. We are not going to see an overrun of the high schools at this point.”
Tensions between the School Committee and the Superintendent’s office flared up over Covid-19 statistics.
Cobden expressed frustration at the district’s failure to provide updated COVID-19 figures. She noted 15 students at Pilgrim and 28 at Toll Gate are being quarantined.
“I think parents that are going to send their (children) to high school, they should know that the (COVID-19) numbers are up right now,” Cobden said. ‘I’m not trying to put people off from going. They want to know before they make a decision.”
Thornton said the COVID-19 infection rates have been on the district’s website “the whole time.”
Committee members said it was time to get back to a normal school schedule.
“I don’t think we’re putting (the students) in unsafe conditions at all,” said member David Testa. “I don’t think we’ve put them in unsafe conditions to this point. We vaccinated our staff. Most of the cases we have are at the secondary level. The more of our students we can get in school, for four days, the better it is for them.”
Stephen Gothberg, the Director of Buildings and Grounds, said three or four air purifiers were installed in windowless classrooms “so the air exchange would be good enough for the amount of students and staff in those rooms.”
As for cafeterias, McCaffrey said schools are no longer required to mandate six feet of distancing between students. In addition, the courtyard at Pilgrim High School will be open and outdoor dining will be available at Toll Gate.
“The weather is on our side at this point. I think we’re in very good shape,” McCaffrey added.
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