Pilgrim rallies support for principal

Habershaw on leave in wake of homecoming

Posted 11/25/21

By ALEX MALM Pilgrim High School has an acting principal until further notice according to Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey. In an email Monday McCaffrey said Pamela Bernardi, a 20-year employee of the School District assumed the role of acting

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Pilgrim rallies support for principal

Habershaw on leave in wake of homecoming


Pilgrim High School has an acting principal until further notice according to Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey.

In an email Monday McCaffrey said Pamela Bernardi, a 20-year employee of the School District assumed the role of acting principal Nov. 22. She has been serving as Assistant Principal of Climate and Culture.

The announcement came on the sixth straight day of distance learning following a COVID-19 outbreak linked to the schools Nov. 6 homecoming event. The School District made the decision last week to do remote learning for the remainder of this week. At the time of publication there were 70 positive cases of COVID according to McCaffrey.

Principal Gerald Habershaw was seen in multiple videos and photos maskless inside the school building on the homecoming night Nov. 6.  Under Gov. Dan McKee’s executive order those in schools are required to wear unless actively eating or drinking.

When asked for further comment McCaffrey told the Beacon, “I can’t comment on personnel matters other than what has been sent out at this point.”

An online petition started by Erin Ferrazza Tuesday calls on Gov. Dan McKee to take action. As of Wednesday morning 3,375

people had signed it. 

“As a Pilgrim High School community member and a parent to a child who attends Pilgrim High School, I ask you as well as all those who sign this petition, to give Mr. Habershaw his job back,” the petition reads. “The information posted via media was incorrect first and foremost. All of the staff, students and volunteers were to be tested prior to the dance in order to attend an event that was also OUTSIDE in a tent. The media also did not state that most of the students were tested twice as the dance was canceled due to weather the week prior.”

“Mr. Habershaw is an amazing figure to the school no doubt but he absolutely in no way deserves this and alone. Three other schools in the State of RI also participated in events exactly like this one and because they were not caught on social media, they didn't get in trouble, the petition went on to state. “Enough is enough! If Mr. Habershaw is going to be punished for this than so should all of the parents for allowing their child to attend, students, the staff that went, as well as other volunteers. Lets give Habershaw his job back as we stand together and support an amazing teacher, Principal and cheerleader for our children.”

When contacted by the Beacon Ferrazza stated “All I know is that he doesn't deserve this nor does anyone in his shoes after going through the proper protocol with the students and staff. They all had to be tested prior too homecoming event and as a parent with a child attending Pilgrim, I don't agree with this decision. Hopefully they make the correct call and save his job.”

School Committee Chairperson Judy Cobden on Tuesday stated “At this point the School Committee has no involvement with this. This is an Administrative issue and they have policies and procedures to follow to investigate this issue. Once they do,  the Superintendent will come forward and give the findings and her recommendations to us. As frustrating and upsetting this is for many the Governor extended his Order on mask wearing in schools and all  RI schools have no choice but to follow the Order,” Cobden said. 

Cobden added, “To date no administrators or employees have been disciplined, suspended or terminated by the Superintendent or School Committee as a result of the Pilgrim Homecoming dance.  There is an active investigation and, as is common protocol, employees may be placed on administrative leave with pay pending the conclusion of such an investigation.”

Following the announcement members of the Pilgrim Community took to Facebook to express their opinions regarding the move.

Leah Hazelwood, posted on Facebook stating in part, “At a time when Pilgrim High School has been in the spotlight, never let it be said that we have not had a great, if not the best, Principal in Warwick, Gerry Habershaw. He has always been a leader with strength, and he has my support. Regardless of what has happened as of recent, you cannot erase 30 plus years of service in one evening. I sure hope no one ever post a spotlight on one evening of your life, and makes it the sum of your entire career. Trust me, you don't always have all the facts in a snapshot or 30 second video.”

Hazelwood wasn’t the only one to show support for Habershaw online. 

Sean Rainey who said that he is an alum, a father of an alum and the uncle of a current student had t-shirts designed in support of Habershaw which read “Habershaw is our principal. Mask or no mask, on one side” and “We want Habs back!! Once a Patriot Always a Patriot” on the other.” 

He said that when the community found out that Social Arts Coordinator Cyndi  Rix was also placed on paid administrative leave he added her name to the t-shirt design as well. 

“I believe he in his 30 plus years has done a tremendous job with the students he has had. I have had multiple children go to Pilgrim under his direction and he doesn't deserve to be put in this situation,” Rainey told the Beacon on Monday night. It was a 30 second video and until he was asked questions he was telling everyone to go outside. He has been a great administrator for many years, always watching out and helping the kids. Listen, he didn't have his mask on in that 30-second video I get it. To take a man's career over it hopefully is not going to happen.”

On Tuesday Superintendent Lynn Dambruch sent a statement to the Pilgrim community that read, “we are aware that students, parents and staff have questions related to recent events at Pilgrim High School. As many of you are aware, video footage related to the recent Homecoming Dance was seen on both the local media and Instagram social media. This footage appears to show potential violations of RIDOH and RIDE guidance, as well as the Governor's Executive Order(s) and School Committee policy and therefore it is currently being investigated.”

The homecoming event consisted of a tent outdoors, with food for the students indoors. 

Dambruch last week said, “several COVID protocols were not followed at the Pilgrim Homecoming Dance.”

An example she pointed to is the fact that students and staff members were seen without masks on indoors. 

She also noted that RIDOH guidelines for that type of event calls for students to be seated at tables while eating and drinking and to be in assigned tables with their pods, as a way to help with contact tracing.

She said that according to RIDOH guidelines for events with food they should’ve had a maximum for 300 students but said while they are still determining the exact number of people who attended, they know that there were more than 300.

Another issue that she pointed to was the outdoor tent. She said that both sides of it were supposed to be open. Apart from the entrance, a Beacon reporter at the event found the sides closed.

Cobden said Wednesday that the Committee would bring up the matter after the Administration has completed its investigation.

Pilgrim, Habershaw, acting principal


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