PROVIDENCE, RI – Lt. Governor Dan McKee today urged the State to give municipalities the flexibility to establish the reopening date for schools in their district. The Lt. Governor discussed this issue with a panel of small business owners and municipal leaders during his weekly Small Business Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday. The discussion took place following the State’s announcement that all schools in Rhode Island will reopen on August 31, a deviation from the standard of allowing local school departments to select their start date.
Lt. Governor McKee notes that reopening schools before Labor Day will have a negative economic impact on many seasonal small businesses in tourism communities. The Lt. Governor suggests that the State should allow each municipality to work with its school department and other stakeholders to determine the reopening schedule that will best suit the community.
“We must give local leaders the flexibility to determine what is in the best interest of their community in terms of safety and economy,” said Lt. Governor Dan McKee. “The economic impact of a shortened summer season can devastate our seasonal small businesses. An extra week of summer could mean a lot to many businesses that are already struggling to recover from COVID-19. This is an opportunity for the State to give some of our small businesses a chance for a small bit of relief.”
Several of the panelists participating in the virtual town hall meeting echoed the Lt. Governor’s request for flexibility.
“As a seasonal business with many high school employees on staff, we will feel the financial impact of opening schools before Labor Day. When school begins, we see a sharp decline in business. On top of that, we are not able to stay open for our normal hours after the majority of our workforce returns to school,” said Erika Fiore, Owner of Alfie’s Surf Shop in Westerly. “I know many other small businesses in Misquamicut are in the same boat as me. We had a slow start to the season due to COVID-19, and allowing our community to choose its own school reopening date would give us the flexibility we need to make it through the season.”
“We understand there are many things to consider when setting a calendar for the school year. We hope that with everything our small businesses have faced over the last few months, our local economies can be part of the consideration,” said Caswell Cooke Jr., Westerly Town Councilman and Executive Director of the Misquamicut Business Association. “The reality is that we had a delayed start to the summer season and we won’t be at our peak by the Fourth of July. Small businesses could desperately use an extra week of summer, because once school starts, vacation cottage rentals, hotel bookings and weekday commerce decline instantly.”
“Oceanside communities like Narragansett would benefit greatly from more flexibility in determining the reopening date for our schools,” said Narraganset Town Manager James Tierney. “Each community has unique needs. Some communities may benefit from opening schools after Labor Day, others might opt to extend Labor Day Weekend by including Friday. In our town, we lose a high number of beach staff once school begins—allowing communities to take all local factors into consideration is important to how we manage our town.”
Lt. Governor McKee hosts virtual town hall meetings every Tuesday at noon to discuss issues impacting small businesses. Rhode Islanders can participate in the discussion on the Lt. Governor's Facebook page.