Cranston, R.I. (November 16, 2020) – National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) President Larry Purtill and Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) President Frank Flynn, leaders of the unions representing the vast majority of Rhode Island teachers and education support professionals, today called for “a holiday pause” of in-person learning and a move to distance learning for K-12 students statewide by November 23. The Ocean State is amid an alarming rise in community spread of COVID-19. Viral caseloads coupled with a lag in contact tracing, staffing shortages due to quarantines, and the arrival of colder weather negatively impact health, safety, and instruction. The organizations agree a temporary move to statewide distance learning is a common-sense critical step in driving down incidence rates. “Rhode Island is experiencing record high number of cases and an overwhelmed Department of Health, despite their best efforts, is falling behind with the required contact tracing that ensures effective quarantining and overall safety of students and educators,” said Purtill. “Districts already burdened and stretched thin are not equipped, nor do they have the capacity, to take on this duty.” “In August, NEARI and RIFTHP came together to call upon Governor Raimondo and the RI Department of Education to meet additional requirements for safety prior to the start of in-person learning and the governor responded,” said Flynn. “Here we are three months later in a COVID landscape that has gone beyond the original parameters put in place for reopening schools in September and has since exceeded nearly every data threshold. We have a renewed sense of urgency to move to distance learning.” NEARI and RIFTHP are calling on Governor Raimondo to announce at her weekly press conference a statewide move to distance learning in order to: Permit the Department of Health to catch up and stay current on contact tracing Monitor the availability of COVID-19 hospital beds Give the Department of Health the time needed to implement a weekly – or biweekly when medically indicated – COVID-19 testing program in all K-12 schools for both students and education professionals Allow for the delivery and safe installation of the thousands of HEPA air filtration devices ordered earlier in the school year – a welcome investment at a time when windows will need to close to the winter cold Allow for the deep cleaning necessary to protect students, families, and educators upon their return “The social and emotional wellbeing of our students is paramount as always, but intermittent school closures put students and families on unsteady ground, disrupt class instruction, and add an undue burden to educators, support professionals and administrators who are already at the breaking point,” added Purtill. “Moving to distance learning through the holiday season will allow Rhode Island to get the virus under control, offer desperately-needed continuity in student learning, and equip empty buildings with necessary air filters for the colder months ahead. The conditions are right to take a pause now until we are better prepared to provide a safe and healthy environment for our students, educators and support professionals,” said Flynn.