NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Department unveiled its Proposed Reopening Plan for the 2020/21 school year last Friday in an email sent out to staff and families of students by Superintendent Phil Auger, which showed four potential scenarios for the district to return to classes in the fall depending on the situation in town in regards to COVID-19.
As a follow up to the announcement, Auger and the North Kingstown School Committee set up an informal meeting Tuesday night via the video chatting platform Zoom to explain the plans and take feedback and answer questions from parents.
The plan was developed in conjunction with district leadership, teachers, staff, students, parents of students, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education, with July 17 having been the deadline to submit proposals to the department, which will give the proposal feedback along with RIDOH to be posted on RIDE’s website on July 31, and the plan is expected to be updated regularly when needed depending on the situation.
“We need to be mindful that we’re making the most of our district’s resources,” Auger said in the meeting Tuesday. “We don’t know exactly how much funding we’re going to have in terms of our bottom line.”
In the proposal, the four plans laid out all envision different learning scenarios regarding the need for social distancing and the spread of COVID-19 within the community, ranging from Minimum to None to Moderate to Minimum to Substantial.
Under the NKSD Full In-Person Scenario, if there’s minimal to no spread in the community, schools in North Kingstown would return to full in-person operations while adjusting for social distancing protocols and distance learning being maintained and integrated with in-person learning and utilized by the district when necessary.
At the elementary and middle school levels, all students would attend school every day like a normal school year, but students and staff are separated into pods, or teams at the middle school level, to limit interactions with large groups. All students and staff at all levels are expected to wear masks or other face coverings, with some exceptions for when people can easily and continually maintain a social distance of six feet per RIDE guidelines and a strong emphasis on frequent hand washing and social distancing
While Auger said maintaining pods or teams at the high school level is impossible due to the wide variety of classes students take, classes will have a capacity of around 15 students. As the largest school in the district and one of the largest high schools in the state with around 1500, under the proposal NKHS will see students attend in person on alternating days, with one half of the alphabet attending classes in person while the other half does distance learning, something which Auger said he felt they were the most capable of doing out of any of the other students, with classes running in sync with each other both online and in person.
Another noticeable change at the high school under this proposal would be the schedule itself, with the amount of classes in a day being cut in half from eight to four, with students taking four classes each semester, and the school day for high school students ending around noon, in part to prevent large gatherings such as lunches in the cafeteria. Extracurricular programs such as athletics are also to be determined per RIDOH guidelines.
“We do not have word (on fall sports) yet,” Auger said.
Band at the high school, which operates as a class, will see its numbers also cut in half, from 80 students to 40 students at a time, and Auger said they are looking at utilizing extra rooms in order to maintain a 14 feet social distance between musicians, while band and related programs at the elementary and middle school levels will be on hold for the year to keep students within their respective pods or teams, though Auger noted they will look for ways to still incorporate music into their curriculum.
One of the key points of the proposal is transportation, with parents previously having been sent surveys regarding whether or not they felt comfortable with their children taking the bus or if they needed to, with the district strongly encouraging parent transport and carpooling, as well as expanding the junior and senior lots at the high school to allow for more student parking. All students who take the bus will be assigned seats with one student per seat and masks being mandatory for the duration of the ride.
The middle schools and high school under the proposal will share a morning bus run with modified stops, and the school days starting at 7:15 a.m., with the high school return run scheduled for 11:50 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. for the middle schools. Elementary school bus runs will expand from two to three, with all elementary schools starting and ending at their regular times except for Hamilton, which would start at 8 a.m. with a 2:30 p.m. release. Unlike the middle and high schools, there are little to no changes to the elementary school bus stops, and Special Education transportation will remain the same as of now.
If the situation in Rhode Island changed for the worst regarding COVID-19, the district’s other three plans could be implemented depending on the severity. In the NKSD Hybrid/Partial In-Person Scenario, in which there is a minimum spread in the community, students from Pre K through Grade 12 would all attend on the same weekly schedule, with Mondays being distance learning days for the entire district and Tuesdays through Fridays being divided similarly to the high school in the NKSD Full In-Person Scenario, with half the student body attending in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other half attending on Wednesdays and Fridays, with both doing distance learning on the days they aren’t in class. No more than 15 students would be allowed in any classroom and additional spacing for social distancing would be implemented per RIDOH guidelines and RIDE guidelines set in place for vulnerable students, such as those in Special Education, having opportunities for full in-person instruction.
In the Limited In-Person Scenario, which would be implemented if there’s a moderate spread in the community, only those previously mentioned vulnerable students would have in person instruction, with the rest of the students doing full time distance learning and any in school programming would be decided by RIDE guidelines.
The Full Distance Learning Scenario, which would be implemented if the spread of COVID-19 in the community became substantial, would see all students in distance learning while having daily engagement with both their teachers and coursework.
“Right now, the governor does not know what plan she will be implementing,” Auger said, adding that the plans can and most likely will change or be adjusted over the next month depending on the situation and any further developments.
“We’re still doing more planning,” Auger said. “There is a ton of work in every aspect of this plan and many, many people are following up on just about every aspect of it. We expect to make some modifications and revisions to the plane with further RIDE and RIDOH guidance.”
Regardless of the plan, one change that will happen will be the school’s shift in online learning software as they move from Google Classroom to Canvas Learning Management System, a plan first made before the start of the pandemic. Canvas will be utilized from Kindergarten up through Grade 12 and replace Google Classroom for any course communications as well as being used to post lesson plans, course expectations, access to all online learning resources and to submit and grade student work.
Social and emotional support programming will also be put into place for all students and staff, with continued professional development time set for staff focused on the needs of their students and the Rhode Island Trust Employee Assistance Program in place for their own needs.
With some students and their families feeling uneasy about returning to any in-person classes due to health conditions or other reasons, full distance learning will be available in any scenario, with students being assigned teachers and classwork with the opportunity to digitally interact with their teacher when needed, with more information forthcoming from RIDE.
As for testing for those attending in-person classes, daily home screening sheets will be implemented covering symptoms of COVID-19, and both the RIDOH and Governor Gina Raimondo are working to develop a “playbook” for department responses to if a student or staff member tests positive, with school nurses and administrators working directly with RIDOH on quarantining, contact tracing and communication while maintaining the infected person’s confidentiality.
The academic calendar for the 2020/21 school year is coordinated with RIDE’s Statewide Calendar for Students, including four professional development days for teachers at the end of August, and is set to be ratified by the School Committee during a special meeting on July 28.
Auger said he expects for more changes to come, with feedback and input from the community strongly encouraged and taken up upon during the meeting as multiple parents asked questions or raised concerns during a public comment section following Auger’s presentation Tuesday night.
Auger also thanked all in his department for their help in developing the plan.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the NKSD administrative team for their tireless work to coordinate and write the NK Reopening Plan,” Auger said. “I also wish to thank our teacher and support staff union leaders and our Reopening NK Advisory Group for their excellent input into this complex reopening process.”
The first day of school in North Kingstown for students from first through ninth grade is scheduled for Aug. 31, with those in Pre K, Kindergarten and grades 10 through 12 scheduled to start on Sept. 1.
For more updates on the district’s plans, visit their website, nksd.net.