Bristol Warren union asks judge to delay in-person learning

Complaint filed Thursday evening; court session set for 11:30 a.m. Friday

Posted

The teachers' union in Bristol Warren wants a Rhode Island Superior Court judge to delay the start of in-person learning in the district, scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 14, citing the schools as unsafe for students and faculty and in violation of state law.

Union leaders from the Rhode Island Education Association and its local here, the Bristol Warren Education Association, were expected to be in court at 11:30 a.m. Friday for a hearing on their motion for a preliminary injunction.

"The employees represented by Plaintifs will suffer irreparable harm if they are forced to come to work, possibly expositing themselves to the novel corona virus and COVID 19," the complaint reads. "The injunction would protect the public from the spread of COVID 19."

Union leadership alleges 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 reads.

Under state law, union officials contend, 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.”

The ultimate goal of the suit, the motion reads, requires "the local fire chief, building inspectors, Director of the State Department of Health and the Director of the State Department of Labor and Training to conduct the statutorily required inspections and notify the superintendents as to whether the schools conform to appropriate state law and regulation."

The motion asks the court to:

  • Issue a declaratory judgement that prohibits the district from opening in-person "unless and until the schools pass safety and health inspections";
  •  Order the appropriate agencies and officials "to perform the appropriate safety inspections and certify to the school superintendent that the school buildings conform to appropriate state law and regulation";
  • Order the defendants to cover the union's court costs and attorneys' fees;
  •  And "award other such relief as the court deems just and proper."

The suit comes a day after the district scaled back its re-opening plans at the Colt Andrews Elementary School and Mt. Hope High School, both in Bristol, following a unanimous vote of the school committee.

Under the vote, Colt Andrews would open on Monday with no students in the building, but would return Monday, Sept. 21, for full in-person learning. The change came a week after a staff member there tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and as many as eight other staff members were ordered into 14 days of quarantine after coming into contact with that employee.

At Mt. Hope, where state student spacing and distancing benchmarks were not being met, the plan (as of Thursday's school committee vote) was to use the district's “limited” model. Students would all be home for “virtual” days on Mondays, and then 25 percent of the students would come to school every other day of the week. Thus, students who chose to attend classes in person would be in the classrooms one day per week and home three days per week.

This story is developing. Check back for updates as they become available.

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