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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingston School Committee announced that the High School won the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program in the exemplary high performing category at their meeting Tuesday evening.

The program has been recognizing excellence in American schools since 1982 and three schools in Rhode Island receive the award every year. This is the third time a school in the district has won the award since 2009, Superintendent  Phil Auger said.

“It’s not to be taken lightly,” said Auger. “This is the highest award a school can receive in our country… It’s a huge accomplishment for this district. We’re doing a lot of things right. There are a number of districts, most districts, in the state of Rhode Island that do not have a blue ribbon school.”

Despite the award, citizens continued to express concerns about the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sub-committee and the presence of Critical Race Theory and perceived adult themed material in the North Kingston school curriculum.

“I wanted to know why there would be push back because it sounds like a good idea,” said North Kingstown resident Kevin Culley in relation to the DEI sub-committee. “Then I heard of Critical Race Theory. Now when I looked at DEI I didn’t see anything that seemed to be CRT, yet some people seem to use that as a derogative, and I’m concerned.

Controversy over the sub-committee and its mission continues to take up a majority of citizen’s comments as a result of the petition to recall council member Jen Lima who originally proposed the creation of the sub-committee.

“I would like to address the hostility being presented at tonight’s meeting,” said high-school senior Izzy Montini. “I don’t think bullying or harassing is the right way to go about disagreements and will not prompt positive change or discussion. I have read a lot of the books that you guys are mentioning such as The Bluest Eye and To Kill a Mockingbird, many of these books in tenth grade, and this was well before Jen Lima was even elected to the school board.”

Once again School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg said that he supports the work the sub-committee is trying to do while he stressed its importance.

“These kids grow up in a world that is entirely different than the world that any of us grow up in,” Blasbalg said. “They have cellphones in their pockets connected to the Internet. As hard as a parent can try to shelter their kids and teach them right that’s what you need to do, but you can’t keep this stuff away from them. It’s important I think that within our schools part of social and emotional learning for children is understanding the impacts that the decisions they make, the things that they say, the names that they call have on other students, and that’s what this is about.”

After the citizen’s comments Auger stressed the importance of vaccinations in preventing the spread of Covid in schools citing the lower rates of transmission in the high school where he said approximately three out of four students have been vaccinated.

“We’re definitely seeing a difference in students who need to quarantine and the positive cases,” said Auger. “There are a number of cases around the district. The worst situation that we’ve encountered so far is at Wickford middle school in the sixth grade.”

Auger said that after having four cases occur on a Friday they had the class move to distance learning for the week. In subsequent days the number of reported cases in the middle school increased from four to 20. Auger said that there’s no evidence that the cases were all from students sharing a bus or classroom.

Continuing their agenda from their previous meeting on Sept. 14 the committee successfully appointed committee member Jake Mather to the DEI sub-committee as a new member with unanimous approval. The committee also announced that it unanimously approved the district’s crisis plan which is reevaluated by the school committee every year.

“Trying to do better does not mean that we’re doing it wrong,” said Blasbalg. “One question that we’re constantly hearing from certain individuals is ‘What evidence do you have of racism in town? What problem do we have?’... One incident of racism is too many and I still hold to that. There’s no number of racist incidents or problems in town that make me think we have to do something now.”

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