FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 12, 2020
Providence Teachers Require Assurances on Safe, Healthy Schools Before Returning
PROVIDENCE--The Providence Teachers Union said Providence Public Schools should begin with distance learning no earlier than Sept. 14th. and is pleased the Governor and Commissioner listened to the two state teachers unions in their asking for a delay for the health and safety of students and educators
“Let us be clear, educators want to return to our classrooms and students. In person learning is and always will be the best pedagogy for educators and the social-emotional health of students. And we refuse to be another Georgia, Indiana or Mississippi. The lives of our already most impacted students, families and educators are at risk.”
In calling for remote learning that should start no earlier than Sept. 14th, she cited chronically unsafe air quality issues in very old school buildings, other infrastructure needs that would preclude social distancing, the city’s high infection rate and digital inequities that have not been rectified.
“According to available public health metrics and physical maintenance records inside our schools, it is currently not safe to go back to school buildings. It is unfortunate school and state leadership chose not to use focus summer months on improving safety and more training on distance learning, despite clear indications of its likelihood. The damage is deepening racial and economic inequities and serious questions delaying a proper and safe return to school,” Calabro said.
PTU’s recommendations echo responses from 400 parents and 300 teachers in statewide surveys taken in July and August 2020, showing overwhelming majorities are very concerned about returning to school buildings, contracting COVID-19, infecting family members, schools’ air quality, and students and drivers on school buses.
"As a special educator in Providence, I have witnessed the worrying state of our buildings due to lack of proper management of mold removal, improvement of air quality, and an unacceptable slow response from our district on urgent fixes that directly impact the health of students and staff within the building. For this reason, I do not have confidence in our district to ensure a safe return to school buildings. ” Alyssa Mason, Mount Pleasant Inclusion teacher
The PTU cited the following problems facing schools, educators and other school staff, students and the community:
- Ventilation. The average age of a Providence school building is 65 years old and many windows cannot be opened. The public deserves evidence that required annual state and fire required inspections of school buildings have taken place and the results. Educators, students and families deserve to know what work orders and budgets of work done in our school buildings in the last 5 months in the pandemic.
- Infection rate. Providence’s infection rate is around 20 percent. New York state, among others, set a threshold of a 5 percent infection rate for 14 consecutive days before opening schools. Thus far, 1,616 children in Rhode Island have tested positive, totaling about 9% of all RI COVID-19 cases.
- Social distancing. Given schools’ layouts and infrastructure, it would be impossible to socially distance the current number of students. So-called “stable pods” would not be possible, Calabro said, since many teachers move from class to class and kids ride school buses.
As part of PTU’s ongoing Racial Justice committee recommendations, educators are also fighting for immediate safeguards and proactive action now of issues inside and outside classroom ensure safe schooling, family stability during this time, and to make an eventual reopening is possible:
“Families in RI shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table or paying rent and risking their lives and the lives of their children. This is about much more than going back to school, it’s whose lives are disposable and undervalued and whose lives are not. " Elisy Blanco-Mercado, Providence parent and school social worker Carl Lauro Elementary.
- Close the Digital Divide. Internet service providers stopped offering free Wifi access to students on the last day of school; no announcement has been made about an extension. There has been no professional development training on remote learning for teachers, students and their families and there has been no distribution of additional digital devices for children who do not own laptops or other devices.
- Targeted approach for highest needs students and families. It will take a village to raise our children in Providence. A focus on direct services for differently abled students and other special populations should be the focus of any in-person teaching.
- Robust, free and accessible testing and contact tracing plan in and outside of schools. Not only schools, but the state of RI need the ability to test and contact trace any new cluster of outbreaks in a timely manner.
- Immediate extension of eviction moratorium for state of RI. Housing is a public health matter, even more in a pandemic. In a district where according to RI Kids Count 2020 report, almost 300 students are chronically homeless, a tsunami of evictions will further derail stability, teaching and learning.
- Progressive Revenue on wealthiest Rhode Islanders to fund essential services and expand access to necessary direct services. It is clear, eventual reopening can not be done off the backs of the chronic underfunding and cutting of city and education services, including most especially special education and early childcare.
- Continued and expanded outreach in multiple languagues to our community on pandemic Unemployment benefits and food assistance for the duration of this pandemic.
- Providing mental health supports for educators, students and families.
- Providing emergency child care for families who need it.
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