CRANSTON, R.I. – The National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) today announced support for a move to distance learning immediately, with a return on at least Tuesday, January 18 after the Martin Luther King Day holiday on Monday. 

“We met with our local union presidents last week to hear directly from the classroom educators and education support professionals on how the return from winter break is going and in many cases it is not healthy or safe,” said NEARI President Larry Purtill.

“NEARI leadership has engaged in multiple conversations with the governor’s office as well as with various lawmakers and two things are abundantly clear. First, decision-making as to whether schools should remain open or move to distance learning will be made at the local level. Second, there is extraordinary pressure coming from the RI Department of Education and RI Department of Health to keep schools open for multiple reasons, most of which we support when safety and practicality are in place.

“Some Superintendents report that RIDE has been a roadblock in allowing them the flexibility to make these decisions. Many would prefer to use distance learning in the coming week until staffing levels, student attendance and safety issues (including adequate supplies and testing) are in place. We largely agree with that assessment and ask them to join with us in being more vocal in stating those beliefs publicly.”

Below is the list of what NEARI believes needs to happen going forward:

  1. Superintendents need to be able to move to Distance Learning when staffing levels do not provide for a safe environment and/or absenteeism among students makes it difficult for productive in-person learning to take place.
  2. Districts need to be able to move to Distance Learning if there are not KN95 masks available daily for all staff and students in the district. (Follow current CDC guidelines for mask recommendations.)
  3. Tests need to be available in every district for staff and student that require them, following CDC guidelines for testing. (If tests are not readily available as needed, districts need to be able to move to DL.)
  4. During Distance Learning, access to breakfast and lunch must be available to all students
  5. During Distance Learning, students must have access to school-based health services, including mental health services.

Until this current vertical surge of COVID-19 is abated, NEARI strongly recommends these guidelines be followed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of students and staff.