By JOHN HOWELL It was built as a high school in the 1950s; it transitioned into a middle school when the district downsized from three to two high schools. Now, Veterans will become kindergarten central for at least a couple of months. The Warwick School
It was built as a high school in the 1950s; it transitioned into a middle school when the district downsized from three to two high schools. Now, Veterans will become kindergarten central for at least a couple of months.
The Warwick School Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to use a 30-room wing of the school as a district-wide kindergarten where, depending on how many parents choose to send their children to in-person classes, about 500 children would get to know their teachers, albeit they and their teachers would be masked.
Vets was chosen because it is one of three school buildings that meets the air exchange standards deemed safe. The committee also approved the purchase of air filters that would be installed throughout the district as soon as they arrive, enabling kindergarteners to gradually go to their neighborhood school.
A Vets kindergarten is some consolation to a group of parents of elementary school students who initiated a petition last week calling on the School Committee to reopen schools. Those initiating the petition – Henry Whitford, Katie Mulligan and Peter Lang – reason parents should be given the choice to send their children to in-person classes.
In part, the online petition, which was signed by 329 as of Wednesday afternoon, reads: “Warwick parents who want the opportunity to make choices that are best for their children have been, thus far, largely ignored by the administration and the school committee.”
Distance learning throughout the district started this week. In multiple comments read to the committee at the outset of the meeting, parents talked of the impact of remote learning on their children, their jobs and their livelihoods.
In an email Wednesday, Mulligan wrote: “We are thrilled that kindergarten is going back and while we would have preferred full in-person, any amount of in-person learning will be beneficial to these children. We are disappointed that the educational and academic welfare of our students continues to be largely ignored. Ms. Bachus seemed to be a least a little concerned about the children in co-taught classrooms, but that is the first time in the past month that we’ve heard any discussion from the school committee about children's educational welfare. Even our superintendent punted our concerns about our students’ education back to the school principals.”
In an interview Tuesday, Bachus expressed concern over the safety of children and how at this point she is not comfortable with in-person classes.
“These are frightening times,” she said. “I think we all want our kids go back to school, but be want them safe, we don’t want anyone sick or dead.”
Asked how he felt about the committee’s decision to go predominately with distance learning – the exception at this time is the career and technical center and special needs students – Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said many people don’t understand the separation between schools and the city administration and that the school committee makes school decisions. Nonetheless, Solomon said he does have concerns over having teachers and students return to schools. He didn’t elaborate.
“We want to go slowly; we don’t want to rush everybody in,” Roy Costa said Wednesday on a tour of what will be the kindergarten wing at Vets. Costa is the point person for kindergartners and special education students through grade five who will be housed at Vets. Adam Heywood will serve in a similar role for sixth- through 12th-graders who will also be at Vets. The special education students will occupy the west side of the school while the east side is restricted to kindergartners.
Lynn Dambruch, assistant superintendent and elementary school director, said during the rest of this week kindergarten teachers will visit their rooms and the department personnel will move items from their respective neighborhood schoolrooms to Vets. She said there would be a maximum of 11 students per room (kindergarten classes are usually 22 students). Simultaneously, the department is conducting a survey of parents to determine if they plan to send their child to in-person classes.
Dambruch said parents would be able to change their minds at any point so they are not opting their children out of the in-class experience. Pulling all these pieces together is going to take some time. The projected date for the process to start, including in-person classes for special education students is sometime at the end of the month.
Because it was outfitted with an HVAC system under bond improvements to upgrade schools, Vets does not require air filters.
HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate air, filters are a critical component to reopening all schools with the priority being elementary schools, starting on a hybrid basis whereby, in order to keep distancing, students would have two days a week of in-class learning and three days of remote learning. The hybrid system is tentatively planned for kindergarten.
But unknowns could throw a wrench into the air filtration plan. Stephen Gothberg, director of school buildings and grounds, told the committee he has found a low amp filter that would not require a massive rewriting of schools to meet the power demand. The school administration ruled out box fans as a means of circulating air when the city and state fire marshal deemed they would create a draft that could be a hazard if there was a fire.
Gothberg has found a unit – the cost is in the range of $500 – that draws about a third of an amp to power that would not require significant upgrades in school power service. The filters are in high demand not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the smoke cloaking the west from 100 wildfires.
School finance director Anthony Ferrucci said Wednesday the district is hopeful of obtaining a discount on the units since would be placing such a large order. He said the district would be purchasing 1,200 HEPA filters, two for each of the district’s 600 classrooms requiring them.
Costa praised the Vets maintenance staff, which has been beefed up to ensure a clean and sanitized environment.
The school was glistening and personnel were wiping doors and corridor walls. Parents and their children visited the school Wednesday to get books and familiarize themselves with the building.
The district has arranged for a side door entrance on the east end of the school for parents dropping off kindergarteners. Kindergarteners taking the bus would be dropped off at the front of the school and directed to enter the K-wing through a side door.