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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — With the 2020/21 school year now underway and the planning turned to action, the North Kingstown School Committee meeting Tuesday night over Zoom was a relatively quick affair with a light agenda, with the most notable business being the approval of the purchase of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Negative Air Machines as well as the approval of a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Education Association North Kingstown (NEANK) and approval of a legal settlement with the North Kingstown Bus Contractors Association (NKBCA).

The HEPA machines are recommended by the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Rhode Island Department of Health for use in areas where there is not a mechanical fresh air system and especially for when the weather turns colder and opening windows to recycle airflow is no longer feasible, with the School Committee approving $45,000 of already budgeted money to buy the systems for the coming fall and winter months, as well as renting some HEPA machines for a maximum of two months for use in isolation rooms, where students who exhibit signs of COVID-19 during the school day can be placed as per state guidelines. 

The measures were approved along with the rest of the consent agenda in one unanimous vote.

Also approved were the MOA with the teacher’s union and a legal settlement with the NKBCA, with whom the district fell out of contract with during the summer. In negotiations, the NKBCA decided not to strike and to continue to work before negotiating a new contract in exchange for partial payment of the months missed from last school year.

The School Committee praised the unions and their leadership for their work and commitment to making sure the 2020/21 school year runs as smoothly as possible.

Much of the meeting was spent praising and thanking different members of the district for their work in getting back to school, with Superintendent Phil Auger saying that the first two days had been running very well.

“(I’m) very happy to see how things are going along,” Auger said, noting that the students and staff he visited with at the district’s school were happy to be back.

In particular, Auger noted how smoothly the Distance Learning Academy has run, praising Assistant Superintendent Denise Mancieri and other administrators for their work.

“We’re very happy with the way our Distance Learning Academy has been put together,” Auger said, adding that the district will continue to take things “one step at a time,” but with a vision towards the future.

School Committee member Jacob Mather backed Auger’s statements on the DLA, saying his two children were incredibly happy with how everything was going.

School Committee Chairman Greg Blasbalg praised the administration and union leadership for their hard work and going “above and beyond” to make sure they would all be ready for the school year, while Vice Chairman Bob Jones thanked the NKBCA for their commitment to making sure the buses ran from the first day of school.

Auger said he would be coming out with an updated list of FAQs for parents in an email by Wednesday evening to address any new concerns raised by the new school year. 

Before the meeting closed, Blasbalg also made mention of the Town Council’s vote to approve the School Committee’s Aug. 29 request for an additional supplemental appropriation of $500,000 to help cover the costs of the district’s reopening plan, which will be paid out quarterly while the district will deliver cost reports to the town at each quarter. Blasblag thanked them for the approval and their work in assisting the School Committee as a whole.

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 29.

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