Statement by President of Providence Teachers Union On Reopening Schools and Expiration of Teachers’ Contract

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For Immediate Release
August 31, 2020


Maribeth Calabro


PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Statement by Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s decision to reopen schools using a hybrid in-school/virtual learning approach and on the Aug. 31 expiration of the teachers’ contract:

“The governor’s decision to reopen school buildings, at least in part, is irresponsible given the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Providence. Schools should only open when it is safe for students and staff. Even today, at her Monday press conference, as the governor was urging the people of Rhode Island to avoid crowds over the holiday weekend, she said that crowding, particularly indoors, is the surest way to spread the virus. Forcing hundreds of children into school buildings will inevitability lead to indoor crowding.

“Our school district must lead using safety and science as its guide. Providence public schools are not ready to provide in-school learning on a large scale, and we are continuing to waste valuable time that could be used to thoughtfully work together on a smart, effective virtual learning approach. This period of time will be remembered as one of the most disorganized and unplanned starts to our academic year. It did not have to be this way.

“Providence’s rate of new cases remains above the threshold that the governor herself set for in-person reopening, making a return to school premature and unsafe. Despite an announcement about school inspection teams, no teacher or community representative has been invited to join the teams, and we have no confidence that inspections and needed fixes would be ready by Sept. 2 and 3 for teacher orientation and professional development, or by Sept. 14 for the first day for any student to return to school.

“On the educational front, chaos reigns and serious questions remain. Many teachers have not received their schedules. They have received confusing or conflicting information, and numerous requests for accommodations due to medical conditions have not been resolved. Parents who signed up their children for distance learning say they were misled, thinking their child would be getting the kind of online learning that prevailed in the spring—connected to a real Providence teacher at their own public school. Parents are now supposed to be coaches, and—disregarding opposition from teachers and parents—the district has outsourced instruction for grades 10-12 to Edgenuity. This company, owned by a private equity firm, offers online, self-directed education without human instruction, apparently sidelining Providence teachers. This approach is a poor use of our existing staff and resources and a grave disservice to students, who want instruction provided by their Providence teachers.

“The PTU’s contract expired today. Although we have made some progress, we have not reached agreement on most critical issues. This is not for lack of trying on our part. We have developed and put forward proposals focused on a commonsense, student-centered vision for our schools. This vision involves community schools, expanded multilingual programs, additional tutoring, a safer school climate, and more much-needed resources for students and teachers. These proposals represent our priorities, and their rejection by the commissioner and superintendent’s team directly contradicts the constant drumbeat by district officials that teachers are not fighting for what’s best for our students.”

The PTU’s key priorities for students can be found on the PTU’s website.