Judge denies teachers' request to delay in-person learning in Bristol Warren

Union representative said there are no plans to appeal


A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has denied the Bristol Warren teachers' union request for a restraining order that would have halted in-person teaching when school opens Monday, Sept. 14.

In a 3 p.m. ruling, Judge Melissa Long ruled that the Bristol Warren Education Association had not met its burden of proving that the schools were not safe, and that required state laws regarding school inspections had not been completed. Shortly after the decision, Stephanie Mandeville, communications director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island, which filed on behalf of the local union, said she does not know of any appeal action:

"We have no plan to appeal at this late date, but of course expect school districts to ensure that school buildings are healthy and safe for in-person students, teachers, and staff," she wrote in an e-mail to the Warren Times and Bristol Phoenix.

Erin Schofield, chairwoman of the BRistol Warren Regional School Committee, said after the vote that she was pleased that the court sided with the district:

"We are pleased that the court’s decision today acknowledges that our schools are ready to open, consistent with health and safety guidelines," she said.

"I know that everyone in this district — teachers, staff, administrators, families, volunteers — has put in an incredible amount of work to make this happen and we are grateful for each and every one of them. This is an extraordinarily difficult time, and we know and understand that anxiety is high about returning to school. We remain committed to supporting all members of our school communities to help ease their anxiety and address their concerns."

The union filed for injunctive relief Thursday afternoon. In a memo submitted to the court, union officials wrote that "the employees represented by Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if they are forced to come to work, possibly expositing themselves to the novel corona virus and COVID 19," the motion reads. "The injunction would protect the public from the spread of COVID 19."

Union leadership alleged that safety inspections required by the state have not yet occurred. In addition, "walk-throughs" of school buildings conducted over the past several weeks, during which "COVID 19 checklists" were completed, have shown that it would be unsafe to open them during the pandemic.

As a result of failing to get the required inspections, "the reopening of those schools is in direct violation of Rhode Island law," a memo attached to the motion read.

Under state law, union officials contended, local officials including the town's building inspector and fire chief, as well as state officials from the Department of Health and Department of Labor and Training must visit schools and let district officials know by the beginning of August whether the facilities are safe and meeting state requirements.

"Those extremely important safety inspections have not been performed this year at all," the motion reads. "Instead, parties ... have conducted minimal walkthroughs of the schools."

Apart from the law not being followed with respect to the inspections, those incomplete walk-throughs, the motion claims, yielded enough information to suggest that schools are not ready to re-open.

“The school buildings in Bristol-Warren, in particular, lack the safeguards that could minimize the spread of this deadly disease. Requiring teachers and students to report to these buildings, after the walkthroughs reveal serious safety issues, will likely cause exposure to COVID-19.”

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