Teachers union requests federal agency to conduct safety inspections of Providence schools

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Providence Teachers Union has submitted a request to a federal agency for safety inspections of Providence school buildings.

Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, made the announcement at the Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School Monday. She said the 8-page letter would be sent to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an agency that’s a part of the CDC.

“We’re gonna ask that they do a health and safety inspection, an actual inspection, of the Providence Public Schools based on the walk-through results from both the Providence Teachers Union building delegates and the results that the district has put forth in the press,” said Calabro. “We need to ensure that they are up to the specifications from CDC guidelines, we have the appropriate ventilation and that they are definitely PPE ready and hygienic enough for students to exist in.”

This request comes after Calabro said the teachers union was left out of the walkthroughs the state conducted of school buildings across the state. She said she requested copies of the checklists used, but her email was ignored by Superintendent Harrison Peters.

“We want to work with people, we don’t want to work against people. But when people don’t respond to my emails, how is that working collaboratively?”

Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Superintendent Peters said he makes sure to respond to emails quickly, but said he’s been busy reopening schools.

Calabro said she got her hands on the documents Sunday when they were made public.

“Now while I appreciate the sudden urgency for transparency at the 11th hour on a Sunday from the district, I would have preferred it weeks ago like we had asked for it,” Calabro said.

Calabro added that she’s heard from teachers across the district that their classrooms are dirty and unsafe. She said her own classroom was skipped by those conducting the walkthrough as her broken windows were not fixed.

“A teacher posted online… Her school’s HVAC system was noted as being ready to go and she had posted that the date of the inspection, the HVAC system was broken, not working, and had in fact spilled into her classroom,” Calabro said. “At the very bare minimum, we would have expected that these classrooms would have been at least bare minimum ready and they were not.”

She pointed the finger at Aramark, the district’s contracted cleaning company, responsible for cleaning the buildings. She said they aren’t being held accountable by state leaders.

She also pointed the finger at Governor Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Angelica Infante Green for not using the allotted funding for schools earlier, as the Providence school district is in the hands of the state.

“We’re not asking for the Taj Mahal, but we are asking for at least as safe as possible. As safe as possible with $50 million sitting in a bank somewhere is not a five-dollar box fan.”

The Governor’s office and the Providence Public School District did not respond to our request for comment.

When asked about the request from the union, Commissioner Infante-Green said, if the union wants to bring someone in, that is fine with RIDE.

The union should hear back from NIOSH in the next 30 days.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island