EAST GREENWICH—Representative Justine Caldwell co-signed an open letter to Governor Gina Raimondo this week demanding that the state resume in-person teaching for special education students. The letter contends that the digital learning platform currently mandated by the governor’s COVID-19 response is not sufficient to the learning needs of students, and that such a policy is not fulfilling the state’s duty to educate children.
“I’ve heard from a number of constituents on this issue, and they tell heartbreaking stories,” Caldwell said. “During this difficult time for all of us, they’ve been facing even steeper challenges -- left to fend for themselves, with distance learning that fails their special needs children, and sometimes with the withdrawal of essential state care that has abruptly thrust them into the role of full-time caregivers and made it impossible for them to continue working.”
Caldwell was joined by Representatives Julie Casimiro and Carol Hagan McEntee, both Democrats representing Districts 31 and 33 respectively. Their letter issued a demand that Raimondo sign an executive order mandating the resumption of in-person special education in Rhode Island.
The letter describes special needs students as a “vulnerable population” and urges the governor to end COVID-19 policies that the authors view as being of lasting negative impact. The letter further recommended that Raimondo follow the lead of the governors of New Hampshire and New York, who have dealt with similar issues recently. In both instances governors recently issued executive orders addressing similar needs of special education students in their states.
While the lawmakers praised Raimondo’s leadership on the COVID-19 crisis with one breath, they stated with the next that disabled students were being “left behind.”
“Not providing an adequate education to these students is having wide-ranging negative
Consequences,” the letter reads. “For many of these children, school is the only place they have any social interaction. For their parents, it is only the only time when they are able to work. When it comes to education, 40 hours a week next year doesn’t make up for 0 hours this year. Promising “compensatory services” to special education students is ultimately a promise we cannot fulfill.”
The letter further stipulates that the instruction Rhode Island special education students are currently receiving is pedagogically insufficient and fails to meet the legal requirements expressed by state and federal law which govern access to public education.
“We’re ready to work with the governor and the Department of Education to help articulate the need for these services,” the letter reads. “We’re ready to work with the School Committees in our districts to address these needs. We’re ready to work with our constituents to make sure they can get the services they need from our State government. Rhode Islanders have responded to this pandemic with resilience and generosity. All of us are facing challenges right now. These families need more from our state. We want to make sure they get it.”
Rhode Island schools have been forced to adopt a distance-only approach to teaching since March, and the governor has announced that in-person teaching will not resume until the end of August. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has consistently failed to give statewide guidance to the individual school districts on how to best plan for the future of teaching, and unanswered questions regarding such matters remain a fixture of school committee meetings. At the time of this writing, Raimondo had not issued any statement on the letter.