I am writing, as a member of a group of more than 20,000 Rhode Island parents, teachers and school employees, to ask that President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition team not consider Governor Gina Raimondo for a cabinet position.
I oppose Raimondo’s appointment on the grounds that she has no experience in public health and that she has, in fact, grotesquely mishandled our state’s coronavirus response, manipulating science in order to justify her decision to reopen schools and the economy, and dismissing inconvenient facts and perspectives. In her haste to reopen schools in August, she treated concerned parents and teachers without due regard and empathy, which we believe ought to preclude her from a place in an administration built on compassion and strength of character.
In Spring 2020, when Covid was ravaging Rhode Island (the first time), most Rhode Islanders were proud of our governor. She appeared to be strong and capable, and willing to make unpopular decisions to keep her constituents safe. But, in June, when the state started to plan for reopening schools and we realized that Raimondo and her deputies were contemplating a reopening strategy that was founded on incomplete information and which featured insufficient safeguards, our group approached the governor with our concerns. Her response – and that of her appointees – was profoundly disconcerting.
She called us fear mongers and implied that we were ill-informed and selfish. With a confidence and sense of entitlement that was unsupported by what we actually knew (and didn’t know) about the coronavirus and schools, she demeaned teachers and lied to parents, enacting safety protocols that were either inadequate (like her no-cost ventilation solution, which eventually led to urban students struggling to concentrate in sub-40-degree classrooms) or destined to unravel (like the now-beleaguered tracking and testing system). She suggested that teachers were too cowardly or self-interested to do what was right for their students and communities, and relentlessly sought to divide us at a time when we so desperately needed to work together. Like her Republican counterpart in Massachusetts, she publicly criticized and pressured districts that voted for remote learning, threatening at one point to sue them into compliance.
In presenting her case to the public, she cherry-picked experts and studies that supported her political objective and declined to acknowledge anything that complicated her preferred narrative. It became clear to us that she was no longer doing what was right for the safety and well-being of Rhode Islanders – including the children, educators and families in our most vulnerable communities – she was doing what was best for the business sector and, by extension, her political future. It is worth mentioning that Raimondo has been accused of prioritizing business and politics over the well-being of Rhode Islanders before – most notably when she “reformed” the state’s underfunded pension system by cutting benefits and investing some of the state’s pensions in hedge funds, with which many believe she had uncomfortably close personal connections.
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Since schools reopened, we have seen a drastic uptick in cases, bringing us to more than 1,000 new cases every day and a near 10% positivity rate, and Raimondo is playing the same cynical game. As the resurgence overwhelms our hospitals, the governor remains committed to her conviction that schools must stay open, even though our test-positivity rate and weekly case average have already exceeded the threshold she set in August and our Department of Health is too overwhelmed to keep up with timely contact tracing.
We do not believe that a public servant who is willing to dismiss and denigrate worried constituents, politicize science and public health, and overlook the dire consequences her actions and failures have had on the people she has sworn to serve is an appropriate pick for a cabinet position within the Biden administration.