“What I know about my classroom is that social distancing is impossible, even from 6 feet, even from 3 feet, even with half of my class. There is no safe scenario because I am a second grade teacher and my students need support tying shoes and getting materials and wiping their nose. My students need an adult to comfort them when they are upset. My students need time to move and run outside. I will not be able to give my students what they need in person if we return in the fall, and if I do, all of their lives will be put at risk.“
Over 50 cars circled the offices of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in downtown Providence on Monday afternoon, honking horns and displaying signs demanding a safe reopening for schools for all Rhode Island students and school staff. Parents, teachers, students and community members are worried that there is no effective way to open the schools during the current pandemic.
While the cars circled RIDE’s offices, speakers set up across the street to deliver their messages to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green.
Stephanie Meuse described herself as “a 4th grade teacher at the Learning Community in Central Falls, a mom of twins living in East Providence and one of many Rhode Islanders who feels like they have not been heard regarding school reopening plans.”
Meuse is the moderator a group of 13,000 Rhode Islanders who have organized over the last three weeks to raise concerns and questions about Governor Raimondo’s plan to reopen schools in 31 days.
“From full return – to partial in person – to limited in person – to full virtual learning – plans for Fall range from unsafe – to underfunded – to untenable – to developmentally inappropriate – to impossible to implement in just 31 days,” said Meuse. “We ask to be heard. We ask for due diligence. Before we send students and school staff back to school buildings, risking the health and safety of every single person in our communities, we insist there be walk throughs of each building, each bus route. We want the reopening plans reviewed and signed off on by nonpartisan experts in public health, mental health and education and equity.”
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Nika Salazar is a resident of Providence and a 2nd grade teacher at the Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls.
“I am here to speak as an advocate for 100% distance learning across districts in our state until a district shows 14 days with no new cases,” said Salazar. “I am speaking as an advocate for valuing the lives of our students, their families, our teachers, and our community members over the reopening of our economy.
“Currently, every single member of our community and society benefits from in person school closure. Schools being closed exponentially reduces ALL community members’ exposure to one another. What we know about this virus is that mask wearing and distancing are the only things that reduce transmission. What I know about my classroom is that social distancing is impossible, even from 6 feet, even from 3 feet, even with half of my class. There is no safe scenario because I am a second grade teacher and my students need support tying shoes and getting materials and wiping their nose. My students need an adult to comfort them when they are upset. My students need time to move and run outside. I will not be able to give my students what they need in person if we return in the fall, and if I do, all of their lives will be put at risk.”
Michelette Brand is a senior at Met High School, speaking for the youth members of the Providence Student Union (PSU).
“The only way to go back to school safely is to have a true solution that meets all parts of a community’s needs,” said Brand. “And this can happen if you simply listen to us. You plan the meetings to involve the community, but our feedback, our input, our emotions go through one ear and out of the other. We plead, we beg and we give facts. You turn around and say, ‘Thank you for your feedback’ and then you continue your discussions about reopening schools.
“When schools reopen on August 31st, do not save me a seat, because I’m not going to go.”
Cynthia Mendes is a resident of East Providence, the parent of a 16-year old, and candidate for State Senate, District 18
“I can tell you that I am also a daughter,” said Mendes, “the daughter of Reverend Joseph Mendes who, on May 5th of this year, passed away due to COVID-19.
“I do not want to stand here before you today to tell you that. I do not want to stand publicly and put my pain on display. I should not have to be here. I should not have to demand safety from our leadership. I should not have to ask the powerful what their priorities are…
“I am calling on the governor to resume distance learning until the spread of COVID-19 has been stopped in all communities in our State, with the expectation that our time and resources will be used to address the needs of those who would be adversely impacted by distance learning. Funnel our resources there to bridge the gap. Fortify your commitment to the most vulnerable in our school system, in new and innovative ways, until it is safe to return.”
Inoska Quezada is a parent with children in Providence Public Schools.
I think it’s ludicrous that they are even discussing reopening the schools,” said Quezada. “The Department of Education took over the Providence School Department because of the disrepair, based on the John Hopkins report. They expect us to let our kids go back into these buildings, which the Commissioner herself said, on October 17th, were in such disrepair that she was thinking of closing them.
“People of color, Hispanics, indigenous people – we have the highest rates of COVID. Our grandparents live with us. Our parents live with us. We cannot social distance.
They need to go back and put all our efforts back into distance learning. They need to make it right…”
Andira Alves is an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and a parent to a 10-year old child in public school.
“Parents and teachers are on the same side. I support our teachers to not open schools prematurely – to not put staff, students and families at risk,” said Alves. “Raimondo continues to say that she worries the most about children in poverty, for whom distance learning was a challenge. Our children are suffering nutritionally, intellectually, and emotionally.
“Please. We know she doesn’t care about our children, and especially not working class children…”
Casey Fredette is an East Providence resident and the father of three school age children.
“My wife lives with such health concerns that she’s been in a virtual lockdown since March 13th,” said Fredette. “Until a safe return to school can be achieved, my kids and my wife are a risk to every Rhode Islander. Until we have a plan for a safe return, we can’t guarantee that my compromised family members won’t spread COVID to your compromised and at-risk family members…
“Today I’m asking you, Governor Raimondo, to be brave. Please stand up for our children, please work with us to ensure that children in 02863 are given the same safe access to education that my child in 02914 is. Listen to the scientists on a safe return to school, because if we fail our youth in this, we will fail all of Rhode Island.