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Editorial & Opinion

Pawtucket parent group demands schools reopen

In a letter, PLEE demands that that the Pawtucket School Committee reverse their “premature decision to keep Pawtucket schools closed for the remainder of the school year.”

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Dear Pawtucket School Committee,

We, Pawtucket parents and community, strongly believe that one approach to reopening schools will not serve ALL students equitably. We are calling on you to reverse your premature decision to keep Pawtucket schools closed for the remainder of the school year. We must acknowledge that our systems inadequately served our most vulnerable populations prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with increased trauma as a result of the pandemic and almost a full year of distance learning (DL), any inequities that already existed are exacerbated under these conditions and highlight the need for more student centered supports and strong parent advocacy.

The Pawtucket School Department (PSD) has worked with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to ensure all Pawtucket school buildings meet proper ventilation requirements to safely open schools. The Pawtucket Superintendent presented a plan to start safely and slowly bringing back students, intentionally prioritizing younger students first. This plan was rejected by the school committee. Pawtucket is the only city in the state that has not provided in-person learning options to most parents and students.

The Pawtucket School Department in conjunction with a call center service recently surveyed Pawtucket families and reached at least 75% of all Pawtucket families: 35.7% of families chose DL and 40.7% of families chose in person learning; 80% of which are elementary school families. The data PSD collected from the parent survey demonstrates the need to provide families with safe in person learning environments.

We call upon our elected leaders and public officials to work together with communities to do what is right and necessary. Parents, students, and community members are demanding the committee re-consider this decision which severely limits a student’s ability to receive in person instruction, despite their needs.

Demands:

  • All Pawtucket elementary schools open for in-person instruction, with respect for the parents right to choose based on their child’s needs.
  • All Pawtucket students of special populations, including but not limited to ELLs and MLLs, IEP, 504 Plans and other categorized diverse learning scenarios be prioritized in return.
  • The Pawtucket school department MUST restart and complete the necessary student
  • learning evaluations for IEPs and 504 plans.
  • Grant access to guidance counselors and advisory meetings for transitional grades especially 2021 seniors.
  • Offer smaller virtual class sizes for virtual learners and add teacher support staff such as paraprofessionals, resource educators, teaching assistants, and Special Ed. case managers for breakout rooms and 1:1.
  • In the reopening plan, address how when students return to in person school staff will address the social emotional needs of students and the inequitable impact of the past year on different populations.
  • Commit to providing a 10-year projection detailing how the School Department plans to mitigate the long-term educational harm due to one and a half years of DL.

Actions:

  • Sign onto this letter here.
  • Contact your school committee members and voice your opinion. Their contact information is listed here.
  • Testify at the next School committee meeting through zoom, this Thursday, January 28th beginning at 6:30 pm, and make sure your voice is heard. You must sign up to speak prior to the meeting. Persons wishing to speak, submit questions/comments must sign in with the Chair before speaking by emailing their request to lissd@psdri.net prior to the commencement of the meeting.
  • Share this petition on social media, tag your family and friends and spread the word.

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If the school committee rejects our proposal to reopen schools for this group of learners, we the parents and community DEMAND a detailed reason addressing the following points.

  • Given our demand advocates for the return of less than 50% of the overall student populations, what reason does the school committee give for not addressing our most vulnerable students and families?
  • During the last school committee meeting, members of the school committee kept referring to the success of distance learning. How is this being measured? How many hours a week of synchronous instruction does the DL program include?
  • Benchmarks for reopening – What would the Pawtucket School Department require and deem acceptable so they can safely reopen?
  • What are the attendance and chronic absenteeism rates for this school year? How do they compare to the previous three years?
  • What is the percentage of students with passing course grades, of that percentage of students how many went through academic recovery in order to pass courses compared to the previous three years?
  • What is the percentage of students who are on track to graduate, compared to previous years? Please break this data out to include students with disabilities and MLL’s.