By ARDEN BASTIA As the winter vacation for Warwick Public Schools draws to a close, families and faculty are left in limbo with no date set for a return to in-person learning for elementary or secondary students. On Dec. 14, the administration announced
As the winter vacation for Warwick Public Schools draws to a close, families and faculty are left in limbo with no date set for a return to in-person learning for elementary or secondary students.
On Dec. 14, the administration announced that all Warwick students would distance learn until Dec. 23. In an email to the Warwick schools community, Superintendent Philip Thornton cited the dramatic increase in virus cases as the reason behind the decision. At the time, 301 faculty and students had tested positive for COVID-19 or were in quarantine. An update on the numbers has not been released yet, as school nurses and administrators were on holiday break at the time of publication.
Karen Bachus, school committee chairperson, said they plan to discuss “housekeeping” topics and the return to the classroom at the next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7. Until a return date is voted upon, students and teachers will continue to distance learn. According to Bachus, the committee will discuss 4-day in-person learning for elementary, which is a possible phased-in return. A full agenda has not been released to the public yet, but will be, says Bachus.
According to Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teacher’s Union, administrators “are waiting until after the New Year” to decide on a return date, “waiting a couple of weeks after New Year’s for any COVID surge.”
“They’re playing it safe, because they don’t want to give a date and if that dates comes and it’s unsafe, they don’t want to make people angry,” said Netcoh.
There is still no plan for secondary students and teachers to begin a hybrid-learning model, but air purifiers are currently being installed in the high schools. Netcoh, who visited Toll Gate High School, noted the new air purifiers but had reservations about the windowless rooms, saying she was concerned about “fresh air flow.”
For parents, the lack of return date is worrying. Danielle Gardiner is a parent of two students at Cedar Hill Elementary School, a fifth grader and a second grader. “The uncertainty is frustrating, and really not necessary,” she said in an interview. “A date would help parents to be able to plan and set expectations for their children. The community understands we all don’t know what’s actually going to happen.”
Gardiner voiced her concerns about distance learning struggles, saying the plans from the school committee have been “largely reactive instead of proactive.” For many parents, Gardiner included, seeing other school districts make the transition to full in-person learning has been “difficult.”
“I definitely think my kids would be thriving more if they were in school with all of the things that being in school brings: socialization, teacher contact, you know, routine. If my second grader isn’t in a Google Meet, it is 100 percent hands on with my husband and I, and both of us work. That’s the reality of how it goes. So great, we’re teaching her, but then that becomes a challenge too, because not every child wants their parent to be teaching them as well as being their parent. It’s all around challenging.”
For Jen Carlson, a first grade teacher at Cedar Hill, the inequities of distance learning are startling. “[Distance learning] definitely exaggerates the inequalities that students have. Because at least in a classroom you’re in the same environment,” she said in an interview. “Not everybody came in to school having the same morning, not everybody had a good breakfast and a supportive ‘Let’s get ready and go’. When you are home, it is so different…it definitely highlights the inequities that kids have. It’s not a level playing field at all. Not that it every really is, but at least in the same environment you can mitigate that as much as possible.”
As a teacher, Carlson sees the differences in student home life and how it can make distance learning harder. “You have a kid who has somebody like Danielle sitting with her and going through everything. And then you have kids who are just on their own, and parents yelling in the background, and kids are fighting. And it’s not the same environment.”
Carlson is also concerned about the amount of notice teachers and parents will get when the time does come to return to the classroom. “When we went distance learning, that day, we were saying, oh I guess we’re going to stay in person until vacation because we haven’t heard anything yet. And when we checked out emails 20 minutes later, it said in two days we’re starting distance learning,” she said. “I have a feeling it’s going to be two days notice again. We’re going to have to rearrange everything.”