Governor Gina Raimondo has delayed the start of school next month, but is holding out hope that students and teachers will return to in-person learning this fall. Two of the state’s teachers unions, which represent most of Rhode Island’s educators, have called for a full return to online classes to start the year. 

But Raimondo said during a Wednesday press briefing, it was still to early to make that call, and that the delay will give the state and school districts more time to get ready for in-person lessons, should it be feasible. 

Raimondo formally announced that classes will not begin until September 14th. A decision about whether those classes will be virtual, in-person, or somewhere in between won’t be made until the last days of August. 

The state is monitoring five metrics to inform that decision. Those metrics include operational issues on the districts’ side, such as the availability of protective equipment and cleaning supplies and issues the state is dealing with, including the capacity for rapid response testing. 

“We’re going to keep working, 24/7 to get these schools ready to receive our children safely,” Raimondo said Tuesday. “And whether it begins fully in person, fully distanced or somewhere in the middle will depend on those five metrics.” 

State leaders have been notified directly of the teachers’ concerns. The two unions, the National Education Association Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals penned a letter outlining their own metrics for returning to the Governor and Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green last week. 

“Teachers are afraid,” Raimondo said. “It’s legitimate. I understand that. You gotta get up your courage to do it. So I’m hearing them and I’m promising them that we’ll have the safety measures in place so that it is safe.”

In the case that a school does reopen, Raimondo added, concerns about the virus would not be a sufficient excuse alone to work remotely. She also singled out the Warwick School Committee, which voted this week to begin the school year entirely with distance learning. 

“I could not be more disappointed in the vote that they took,” Raimondo. “They just threw in the towel on those kids.”

The state reported 74 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 20,129, and two new fatalities, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related fatalities in the state to 1,018.

Raimondo again encouraged people to wear masks and respect the social gathering limit of 15 people. The state police unit assigned to deal with groups exceeding the restrictions received some 400 calls in the last week. Only four of those gatherings were found to be in violation. 

The governor also reminded people to stay home if they feel sick. The department of health found that of the most recent week’s positive COVID cases, about half the people had spent time at work, even after they had displayed symptoms.

“A month and a half ago, Rhode Island was leading the nation in how low our prevalence [of COVID-19] was,” Raimondo said. “We’re not as good as we were, and we’re not as good as we could be if everybody followed the rules.”