As a member of the North Smithfield School Committee, I’d like to share my thoughts about school reopening plans.
I want to applaud the inexhaustible work of our teachers and our district staff. First for the quick pivot to distance learning in the spring, and now for the continued work to plan for whatever the new school year will look like. In North Smithfield, we are blessed from the superintendent on down with thoughtful, meticulous leaders who have treated every facet of this pandemic with the seriousness it warrants. The position they — and parents who live in NS — are being put in is unfair.
I think the current reopening plans are flawed. Not because of anything at the town level — again, our district team has done everything right — but because of a lack of direction at the state level and the folly of trying to predict how the coronavirus will proceed.
Rhode Island saw an increase of Covid cases after loosening restrictions earlier in July. How can we expect any different outcome from reopening schools now? The state will not allow school districts to enforce a mask wearing policy for students. How is that supposed to keep anyone safe?
By all rights, re-opening would benefit me personally. I am a small business owner, and the stalled economy is seriously hurting my bottom line. I would rather go bankrupt than put anyone at risk, but especially our children.
I’m also someone who has lived my life with kidney disease. I have been on dialysis. I had a kidney transplant last year. I know how dangerous it is to be immunocompromised in the Covid era. There are parents like me all over this town, state, and country, and the reopening plans as they stand put the immunocompromised in danger as well.
That in mind, and based on the science of today, I would recommend full distance learning for our students for the month of September. Hopefully things change — hopefully they change tomorrow — but right now it’s unrealistic to try to force our students and teachers to go back to in-person learning on August 31.
I hope and pray a coronavirus vaccine is found, and quickly. Our students do deserve to go back to enjoying their lives — we all do. But we don’t have a vaccine yet, and the plans we have to work with currently have done nothing but set us all up to fail.
Paul Jones lives in North Smithfield with his wife and daughter and is a member of the North Smithfield School Committee. He is running for town administrator in the 2020 election.