OPINION

School opening delay proves Warwick's tough call was right call

Posted 8/28/20

It's hard to imagine a less desirable job these days than being at the top administrative levels of government or any department of education. In a world where people crave simple answers and guarantees, our pandemic-stricken world currently offers

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OPINION

School opening delay proves Warwick's tough call was right call

Posted

It’s hard to imagine a less desirable job these days than being at the top administrative levels of government or any department of education.

In a world where people crave simple answers and guarantees, our pandemic-stricken world currently offers neither of those comforts in regards to the impending opening of schools. In a world and a state where administrators and politicians have long been derided by a cynical and politically polarized populace, any decision in this environment – even those made with the best of intentions – will undoubtedly infuriate a large percentage of citizens.

Even Governor Raimondo, who all summer insisted that her number one priority was opening schools on time and in person, had to admit a setback in mid-August and delay the opening of public schools in Rhode Island until the middle of September – and there’s still no knowing how things will actually look in a couple of short weeks either.

We wonder if the governor and her advisors look back on her comments made in the wake of Warwick announcing that it would be conducting virtual learning to begin the school year with any regrets or new considerations. She said Warwick “threw in the towel” on providing its kids a quality education, just one day prior to announcing the delay to the beginning of schools to give schools “more time” to come up with educational plans that more readily address issues that have been raised by educators and parents since the beginning of the summer.

These concerns persist without many solid answers regarding in-person learning. How can you effectively transport kids on confined buses? How can you hold lunch periods without causing significant impacts to the school day or forcing certain groups to eat unnaturally early or late in the day?

More tangibly, how can school districts already strapped for cash go about hiring the additional personnel necessary to drive additional buses and clean facilities – let alone hire full- and part-time educators? Warwick itself has calculated these additional expenditures across the district requiring another $15.7 million. Even if their calculations are off by an outrageous 50 percent, where does even $8 million in unbudgeted funding come from?

So, it seems to us that Warwick, having been down in the depths of some serious budgetary quagmires before, did the prudent thing by announcing their intentions to go virtual early – even before the state decided to do so – which makes sense from a fiscal and public safety perspective. Rather than wait on funding that doesn’t seem to be appearing from the sky, or guidance that has continued to be unclear (and again, we don’t fault the state for not having a magical answer to a tremendously complex question), Warwick chose to take matters into their own hands and make a tough call. They didn’t deserve derision for making that call, especially not from the Governor herself.

We know the administrators and teachers in Warwick – and despite the annual griping that occurs between all sides for whatever reason is the hot topic of the moment (mostly about allocation of funding and educational policy changes), there has never been doubt in our minds that these hardworking individuals care about trying to provide a quality education to the kids of this city.

The district didn’t “throw in the towel” by recognizing the cold truths of the moment and admitting that they were ill-equipped to handle that moment safely. In fact, it could have done a lot of good for educators, parents and children alike throughout Rhode Island if the state government had been slightly less aspirational and more realistic in their own assessments of how education could function in this gloomy reality from the beginning – if it could function at all.

Warwick has gone further and voted to bring back special education students and vocational students – which have smaller class sizes and can more efficiently distance in their classrooms. These decisions carry their own health risks, but those groups are also more at-risk of serious educational regression if they’re not learning in person. We applaud the Warwick School Committee for trying to listen to the concerns of parents and teachers while still appreciating the importance of in-person learning. Above all, they are trying to honestly factor in all sides of a lose-lose situation.

There is no perfect political answer to this complicated problem. The only thing that will help guide us through this moment of crisis is clear communication, a willingness to listen and always, above all, keeping the safety of our children first in mind.

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