By ARDEN BASTIA The return to in-person learning has been a long time coming for Warwick, yet teachers are still voicing concerns about safety and logistics. On Jan. 7, the school committee voted in favor of returning to the classroom. Between Jan. 13
The return to in-person learning has been a long time coming for Warwick, yet teachers are still voicing concerns about safety and logistics.
On Jan. 7, the school committee voted in favor of returning to the classroom. Between Jan. 13 and Jan. 21, students will be returning to the classroom in a phased process. Elementary students will be following a four-day, in-person model, while secondary students will be following a hybrid model with two days in the classroom and two days of distance learning. Mondays will continue to be a distance learning day for all students in the district.
Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teacher’s Union, shared her concerns about the proposed plan for in-person learning.
“Here’s the thing: We know that there is a new infectious strain of the virus. It hasn’t been identified in Rhode Island, but we know it’s out there. Cases are up, thanks to the holidays. And depending on what teachers are teaching, there are different concerns.”
On Jan. 13, WELC, special programs, and the Warwick Area Career and Tech Center returned to the classroom for in-person learning. Netcoh shared concerns from teachers that the amount of time between the announcement and the start date was inadequate and didn’t allow teachers time to properly plan.
“There’s the timing issue here with the community spread, and for secondary, the end of the semester is coming up. So why not just wait until after exams for the high schools? And wait for the end of the quarter, because some classes will end at the end of the quarter in middle school,” said Netcoh in an interview.
At the beginning of the school year, classrooms at Warwick Veterans Middle School, for example, were rearranged to accommodate special program students. Furniture, like desks, bookshelves, and tables, were relocated to the gym. Now, teachers must reorganize their classrooms ahead of welcoming students back. Teachers at Warwick Veterans Middle School were allowed to return to the building to set up their classrooms starting Monday, Jan. 11. An agreement was arranged with administration to alleviate teachers from some distance learning duties this past week, like department nights, in order to have time to prepare.
“If the kids are going to be in next week, then teachers can’t be setting up their rooms while kids are in the building. This is why it would’ve been better to wait until the end of the semester for secondary,” said Netcoh.
Another big concern among teachers is navigating how to teach both distance learning students and in-person students at the same time, in the most equitable manner.
“It’s still very difficult to do both, and especially at the elementary level,” said Netcoh.
Teachers have made requests for additional technology and sporadically those requests have been granted, but “widespread, we don’t have the technology,” says Netcoh. She cited WiFi issues, both in the classroom and at student’s homes, as more challenges to teaching virtually and in-person at the same time.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), like Plexiglas, has been provided to teachers in some buildings, but not to all. According to Netcoh, elementary teachers have received Plexiglas to separate themselves from the students, and the students from each other; however, secondary teachers are still awaiting their Plexiglas. Other safety measures, like one-way hallways and specific entrances and exits, will vary from building to building. Toll Gate High School Principal Candace Calouri mentioned at the school committee meeting that her school was implementing one-way hallways and stairwells in order to keep social distancing.
“One of the complaints I’ve heard from secondary,” said Netcoh, “Is that the kids are going to be eating in the classroom. I’ve got teachers saying, ‘Look, I haven’t been to a restaurant since last year, and now I have to eat in the room with the kids?’”
Netcoh is advocating for secondary schools to allow students to eat in the cafeteria.
In a tentative schedule for secondary students, ten minutes is allotted between classes for cleaning. According to Netcoh, teachers will not be cleaning the classrooms, as it is not in their contract. Instead, janitorial staff will be cleaning each classroom as well as the gym between classes. “The district had to hire outside companies. Teachers are not going to clean the desks, that is not going to happen,” said Netcoh.
In the reopening plan laid out by administration, students will be divided into two groups based on last name. Group A students will be in the classroom Tuesday/Thursday, and Group B students will be in the classroom Wednesday/Friday. In terms of what students will be in person on what days, that information has yet to be released to the teachers.
Netcoh polled her own students to get an idea of what she should prepare for. “I found out a class I have, I’m only going to have two students physically in the room and everyone will be home learning virtually. But that’s happening all over, I’ve heard from elementary teachers that they only have one student in the room that day.”
At this time, Warwick is not requiring a negative COVID-19 test from students or faculty before they return to the building, According to Superintendent Philip Thornton, a state-run rapid testing event will be available to the Warwick schools community, possibly in February, although no further details have been released.
“Some teachers are happy, but most teachers I’ve heard from are concerned,” said Netcoh. “Teachers need time for organization and planning, and to allow for the holiday surge to settle down.”