Pawtucket school committee cancels superintendent, keeping most students away for rest of year
PAWTUCKET, RI (WPRI) – The Pawtucket school committee voted Tuesday night to have nearly all of the town’s students virtually learn for the remainder of the school year, despite state pressure to return to in-person learning.
The decision means the majority of Pawtucket students will learn remotely for a year and a half, from March 2020 to September 2021, assuming the school reopens in person in the fall.
The district chose to start the school year with distance learning until safety issues discovered in 12 of the city’s 16 school buildings are addressed by the state.
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green sent the Pawtucket school committee a letter last week who described how each of the district’s concerns were alleviated.
“They’re the only district in the state that hasn’t returned, so there’s really no reason other than to make this decision,” Infante-Green said.
In a virtual meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams presented a potential plan that would allow students to gradually return to class.
His plan would start with the return of Kindergarten to Grade 5 in February, followed by Grades 6 to 12 in March. But despite its recommendation, the committee voted unanimously for Grades 1 to 12 students to learn remotely.
They also voted for McWilliams to explore the possibility of integrating distance learning centers into school buildings in the district.
This decision does not suit Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, including political lawyer Bernice Morris.
“If there is no option for kids who are struggling with distance learning to go to school, that’s a problem,” Morris said.
Morris, along with several other members, drove Jenks Middle School in hopes of attending an in-person reunion. they planned for raising their concerns during this meeting, but learned minutes earlier that the committee was meeting remotely due to the pandemic.
She also said that due to the committee’s rules, which state that anyone wishing to speak must request it before the start, she and other members were unable to voice their concerns.
“We know the education system in general doesn’t work for African American students and the system needs to change,” Morris said.
These concerns were recently outlined in a letter to the committee, written by Executive Director Brother Gary Dantzler, in which he urged the committee to complete the district plan to immediately return to in-person learning.
In the letter, Dantzler noted that Pawtucket has the highest percentage of African American students in the state, who do not have the opportunity to attend school in person.
“Racial disparity does not go unnoticed,” he wrote. “We know COVID-19 has exacerbated educational inequalities and has had a disproportionate impact on the African American community here in Rhode Island. “
Morris said that despite not being able to voice his opinion at Tuesday’s meeting, they will continue to “lobby people who can make this change happen.”
Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance President Ronald Beaupre applauded the committee’s decision, saying, “While we all agree that a face-to-face teaching model is the most effective, safe and efficient. well-being of students and staff must be the top priority. With this in mind, the Pawtucket School Department is committed to providing a distance learning model that is both responsible and effective.
Beaupré also responded to concerns expressed by Black Lives Matter Rhode Island and Infante-Green, calling them “false and ignorant.”
Obviously, the RI Department of Education program is driving their false narrative, attempting to discredit Pawtucket’s high-quality distance learning program which ensures that the educational needs of our students are met while ensuring the student and staff safety during this pandemic, ”Beaupre wrote. “I am convinced that thanks to our collective efforts, our students will continue to be
successfully, and look forward to returning to brick and mortar instruction when it is safe to do so