By JOHN HOWELL All Warwick students will be required to wear masks and Superintendent Philip Thornton will be given another year to run Warwick schools. Those were two expected outcomes of Wednesday night's School Committee meeting, which commenced soon
All Warwick students will be required to wear masks and Superintendent Philip Thornton will be given another year to run Warwick schools.
Those were two expected outcomes of Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting, which commenced soon after today’s Beacon went to press last night.
In interviews Tuesday, School Committee Chair Karen Bachus said the committee would consider a one-year extension of Thornton’s contract that includes concessions on his part. She said the contract being presented to the committee would cap Thornton’s pay at the current rate while increasing his co-payment for health benefits to 25 percent and eliminate the option for him to convert unused vacation time into pay.
“He would have to use it or lose it,” Bachus said.
Bachus was reasonably confident the committee would approve the contract.
Reached Tuesday, Thornton said he wants to continue in his role as Warwick superintendent and ensure the opening of schools as well as carry forward initiatives he has help direct under his leadership. He would not discuss any particulars of the agreement as the committee had not discussed or taken a vote as of that time.
Bachus was also reasonably certain the committee would give first passage to a change in policy requiring all students to wear masks in school. The policy would come up for a second vote in August if approved at this week’s meeting.
Bachus sees the policy applying to all students except those that can’t wear masks for medical reasons or due to special needs. When it comes to safety, she sees no reason why elementary school students should be exempt, although the coronavirus has not targeted children. She said she vehemently disagrees with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s prior indications that young children shouldn’t be required to wear masks and believes that the School Committee should have the power to set the requirement. On Wednesday morning, Bachus said RIDE issued an advisory to the superintendent that students would be required to wear masks.
“They are apparently changing their tune,” she said.
Bachus said she is also waiting to hear from the governor and RIDE as to additional funding for schools.
The Warwick plan calls for a hybrid opening, splitting the week between distance learning and in-school classes so as to reduce the numbers of students in school at one time. That proposal, which would need RIDE approval, is projected to cost an additional $15.7 million.
The district did not present a “full in-school” plan as requested by the state “because we can’t make a safe setting for our kids,” Bachus said.
She does not see turning to the mayor or the City Council to come up with the additional funds.
“Mayor Solomon did the best he could in the budget,” she said.
So, at this point, she sees additional state funding as critical to reopening.
“It looks like the governor is more interested in giving money to businesses than to schools,” she said of Raimondo’s $45 million Back to Work RI plan announced this week.
Bachus defended the policy on masks, pointing out that Warwick schools have the authority to set attire guidelines requiring proper footwear and clothing. By the same token, she believes schools should have the power to require the use of masks as that affects other students as well as teachers.
“We’re not saying you have to wear the best masks,” Bachus said. She said schools would have masks for students who forgot them but they would face disciplinary action if they deliberately failed to wear them.
“They would get into trouble and be doing virtual school,” she said.
Bachus said some members of the committee favored a resolution calling on legislators to give them the power to enforce the wearing of masks. She thought that could ignite a debate.
“We’re not going to make this political,” she said.
The policy reads: “A student may take off a mask when it is approved by a teacher or school administrator. Students with special needs (documented in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 may be accommodated or exempt from this mandate at the recommendation of the IEP or 504 case manager in consultation with the parent. Students with medical conditions (as documented in an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP), may be accommodated or exempt from this mandate with a doctor’s note in consultation with the school nurse. A release must also be signed in the event that the school nurse or school physician needs to consult with the student’s doctor. Any staff member with a medical condition that prohibits the use of any type of face covering must provide a doctor’s order and may be asked to sign a release to allow the school nurse / school physician to speak to their health care provider.”
As for Thornton’s contract, Bachus said she wanted to be sure Warwick schools “would keep him at least through the [academic] year.” She would like to see him complete plans for the high schools as well as “finish with the elementary schools.” The virus interrupted work on revamping the high schools, whether that involved building a new school or transforming the existing schools to bring them up to the 21st century. She would also like to see Thornton “bring curriculum up to date.”
A one-year contract would be a mistake in the opinion of former School Committee chair and independent candidate for mayor, Frank Picozzi. Queried about the possible development, Picozzi said it is a demonstration of a lack of confidence and would serve to make Thornton’s job all the more difficult.
Bachus said she is looking at one year because of the uncertainty of the times and for financial reasons.
“I can’t say much at this point,” Bachus replied when asked about teacher contract talks and the likelihood of an agreement whereby teachers would co-pay 20 percent of the cost of health care as the case with other school workers and city employees. The current contract expires the end of August.
“We’re working on it,” she said of a teachers’ contract.