Governor upset Warwick School Committee voted for a return to distance learning

WARWICK, R.I. (WLNE) – Governor Gina Raimondo heavily criticized the Warwick School Committee after it voted to have students return to full distance learning in September.

The committee voted 4-1 Tuesday night in favor of distance learning. Only students with learning disabilities will be allowed to attend school in-person to work closely with teachers.

School officials say they can’t return to full or even partial in-person learning because they don’t have enough custodians to do the necessary cleaning, the air quality in schools is not on par with the state’s safety requirements, and they need an extra $15 million dollars that they don’t have to make changes that accommodate a hybrid model.

“I could not be more dissapointed in the vote that they took. They just threw in the towel on those kids and I think the children of Warwick deserve better,” said Raimondo at her Wednesday coronavirus press briefing.

The district’s superintendent, Phil Thornton, said up until last week they were leaning towards returning to school with a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning. But then they found out they do not have proper air circulation in all of their buildings to meet the state’s safety standard during the pandemic.

“There was a discussion on how you could mitigate that by adding things like box fans in a doorway or a window. But that would be predicated on having enough power,” said Thornton, who added the schools do not have enough power for this plan.

The governor wants the district to work around the issue.

“Get to work and figure out a plan like everyone else is doing,” said Raimondo, “Warwick is not at 100 cases per 100,000. They could go back.”

Raimondo also blasted the district for not submitting a plan for full in-person learning.

“We asked all districts to plan for all eventualities,” said Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.

Thornton said they did not submit a plan for full in-person learning because he does not believe it is possible to achieve in Warwick amid the pandemic.

“We submitted full distance learning, we submitted limited and the hybrid model. We were actually commended on parts of our plan by RIDE,” said Thornton.

He said he will follow the school committee’s vote unless the governor issues an executive order requiring students to return in-person.

“I am looking into all of the state’s options: funding options, legal options, etc,” said Raimondo. “Let’s get to the table and figure out how we’re going to get as many students back in-person.”

Thornton hopes to release more details on the full distance learning plan next week.

Raimondo said she hopes the school committee will reconsider its vote.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island