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Cynthia Mendes: Resume distance learning until the spread of COVID-19 has been stopped in all communities

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You know a good leader not by the decisions they make that affect the powerful, but by the decisions they make that affect the most vulnerable. I shouldn’t have to demand safety from our leadership. I shouldn’t have to demand that all children in this state’s lives be a priority.


I am a resident of East Providence, Rhode Island. I am the mother of a 16-year old in our public education system and I am a candidate for Rhode Island State Senate for District 18 East Providence and Pawtucket.

I can tell you that I am also a daughter – 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.

One of my dearest friends is a teacher in Pawtucket, a number of years ago she donated her kidney to someone who needed it to live. That is who she is. A few days ago she reached out and asked me to help her find a lawyer to create an end of life plan to make sure that her family will be okay, because if she has to go back into the classroom she needs to have a plan for what will happen to them if something happens to her.


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She should not have to tell me that. I should not have to be here publicly putting her story on display. I should not have to demand safety from our leadership. I should not have to ask the most powerful what their priorities are.

I am grateful for the school district’s efforts as they agonize over the task of being forced to create a back to school plan.

Let me be clear: 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 be used to address the needs of those who would be adversely impacted by distance learning. I am calling on the governor to funnel our resources to the adversely impacted, to bridge the gap, to fortify our commitment to them in new and innovative ways, until it is safe to return. 

It is not students and teachers’ job to prop up our economy on their backs. It is not their job to remind leadership of safety. It is not their job to beg to be the priority. 

I have a teenager going to her junior year. The going back to school conversation is tough in our house. My daughter gets very angry with me. I tell her my priority is to keep her alive. I tell her to not be angry with me. I am not the one with the power to change this. I tell her to keep an eye on the “change makers” and watch who they make changes for.

We have a saying in our house. We say, “Watch leadership.” Watch who they listen to. Watch to see if they will hold themselves accountable, and how, and to whom. Watch when they make plans. Watch who it helps – and watch who it hurts.

You know a good leader not by the decisions they make that affect the powerful, but by the decisions they make that affect the most vulnerable. I shouldn’t have to demand safety from our leadership. I shouldn’t have to demand that all children in this state’s lives be a priority. 

Governor Raimondo, we are watching your leadership today. We are demanding that our children not return to school until it is proven to be safe for everyone. We are asking you where your priorities are. We are telling you now plainly that we feel that going back into the classrooms puts all of us at risk . 

Now at this place in history, you are the change maker and we are watching you.