Pawtucket Teacher’s Union President speaks out: “You don’t know the full story”
PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WLNE) – Pawtucket committee members approved a plan to gradually return all students back to the classroom beginning with 1 through 6 graders in March.
Now, the President of the Pawtucket Teacher’s Union is speaking out following Tuesday’s vote, addressing the controversy that’s been going on for the past few months and voicing teachers’ opinions on the decisions.
“I stand by what I’ve said from the very beginning,” Ronald Beaupre, President of the Pawtucket Teacher’s Union said. “Our teachers want to be back here in their classrooms with kids every day when it’s safe.”
Every single morning for nearly a year, Beaupre comes to his empty classroom, logs onto his computer and teaches his 4th grade class virtually.
“I looked at email this morning really quickly and I have about 50 sitting in my inbox many of whom are nervous about coming back, many of whom are ecstatic that they’re going to have their children in front of them,” Beaupre said.
Pawtucket is the only school district in the state where most students haven’t returned back to the classroom. Last night, the school committee approved a plan which phases all students back in the classroom. Grades 1 through 6 will return beginning March 1st, grades 7 and 8 on March 15th, and grades 9 through 12 with a flexible return beginning March 29th.
Beaupre says elementary school teachers are ecstatic and ready, but middle and high school is a different story.
“The ability to social distance 1,100 students that travel through the school and go to mixed classes just to remix again is next to impossible,” Beaupre said.
He says those teachers are worried how the new model could impact students who chose full distance learning.
Under the new plan, high schoolers would return in a flexible model, meaning two days a week students will learn in person and the other three days they will learn virtually. Beaupre says that means students who choose to continue full distance learning will lose their teacher on the two days other students are learning in person. Instead, those students will be provided assignments to work on.
That model concerns teachers and Beaupre says if students have to be in person, they’re considering presenting a plan where high schoolers go back Monday through Friday in person, so that those who choose to stay virtual will get their own full time virtual teacher.
Teachers are also worried about ineffective stable pods and staffing shortages.
“One of the things they keep saying is, just get more teachers. Well, they don’t exist,” Beaupre said. “The state created a substitute teaching pool, we were assigned two, and neither of those two accepted the position.”
He says it’s been tough that Pawtucket has been singled out. Teachers have faced backlash and many of them have underlying health conditions.
“We talk a lot about the social emotional learning of kids,” Beaupre said. “We often forget about the social emotional well-being of teachers.”
Even the state questioned the district’s decision to originally keep kids virtual. Commissioner Infante-Green said in a letter that there is ‘no reason students should not go back in person’. However, Beaupre says people don’t know the full story.
“We submitted a plan to the Rhode Island Department of Education in July that said we could safely bring our students back in a hybrid model. Commissioner Infante-Green denied and rejected that plan.”
He also says they met with the Department of Education, city leaders and members of the Governor’s Office in the fall who questioned why the city was not in at least a hybrid model.
“So, I asked the Commissioner, are you changing your position on that?” Beaupre said. “She said emphatically, ‘no, I have not changed my position, Pawtucket may not have a hybrid plan.’”
As for why other schools are up and running and not Pawtucket, Beaupre says up until December, the district did not have ventilation systems inside the schools. They recently received air purifiers.
“We’re nervous,” Beaupre said. “We’re nervous because we still don’t have every mitigation requirement in place.”