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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A mix of online instruction and in-person classes will be used when students return to school in South Kingstown on Aug. 31.

In a lengthy meeting July 22, the School Committee reviewed plans to reopen the school buildings in the fall.

Supt. of Schools Linda Savastano said the administration team has been at work for months on what she calls a “re-entry” plan, rather than a reopening of schools, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been open, we never closed,” she said.

Savastano called the plan one that is transparent and offers options to simultaneously support in-person and virtual learning.

“Even in the most wonderful of situations, you might have someone who is quarantined, and that can last 14 days,” she said. “If I’m a teacher and I have a roster of 20 students, we would plan for 20 in the room, but we may not have 20 in the room. We may end up with 10 in the room.”

The schools were asked to submit a re-entry draft plan to the state Department of Education by July 17. The final version will be on the school department’s website on Friday.

Core elements of the South Kingstown plan are that it would be driven first by health and safety considerations, that it would be able to pivot from in-person to online learning at a moment’s notice, provide innovative and flexible instruction and that it address inequity and biases and provide access for all students to meet and exceed academic and social expectations.

“Ultimately we’ve been grounded in these beliefs and in the plan,” Savastano said.

There will be daily screening for staff and students. Children must be screened at home, on the bus and when they arrive at school.

Masks will be worn and provided, and buildings have been adjusted to accommodate social distancing rules, Savastano said.

Classes would function as “stable groups” that don’t interact with other classes, schools or groups, Savastano said.

“And we may need to use spaces that we don’t normally use as classrooms – libraries, gyms, the outdoors,” she said. Schools will provide extra support to a small number of students who are the most vulnerable or need face-to-face learning.

Schools would start Aug. 31 with a “very restrictive environment, almost like Phase 1,” Savastano said, and eventually loosen up.

For transportation, Savastano said administrators are working with the bus company and the state to refine plans that will be made final in August, and that parents will be surveyed. But buses won’t be able to operate with the same number of students or the same routes as in the past.

Food services would be a “grab and go” model, with students eating in the classroom, in cafeterias in stable groups or even outside.

Each classroom will be able to provide one-on-one virtual instruction and virtual meetings.

“We know to be successful, we need each classroom to have a strong foundation in technology,” Savastano said.  

Staff meetings with the superintendent and at each individual building are taking place to prepare for the launch, Savastano said. Orientation and informational videos for families will be rolled out in the beginning of August, with parent meetings scheduled to take place mid-month.

Finance Director Maryanne Crawford presented budget numbers for the impact of  COVID-19, and called them fluid, but said the bottom line cost is about $4.4 million to implement them.

Among the changes projected are the need for an additional custodian at each elementary school and two at each of the secondary schools, Crawford said.

Three additional nurses would “float” around the district, based on need. In addition, a CNA would be available at each school in the case that someone needs to be put in isolation.

“Hopefully it won’t happen too much, but when it does we’ll have them available,” Crawford said. At other times, the CNAs would work with the nurses.

Supplies such as hand sanitizer, face shields, N95 masks and more are factored into the budget, as are facilities changes such as partitions, touchless sinks and sanitizer stations for teachers.

Hundreds of new iPads and laptops are on order, although Crawford said the lead time on acquiring them is not encouraging.

“We’re not the only ones looking for it. All school districts nationwide are looking,” she said.

Transportation remains the biggest wildcard, Crawford said, and she’s planned for five additional buses. The schools are exploring a three-tiered bus system to transport students at different times.

“Folks will need to be flexible,” she said. “The schools may start at a different time than in past years.”

The schools will be receiving $777,000 in federal aid, and will have to determine additional money sources, such as a request for supplemental aid from the town or tapping the $2 million undesignated fund balance.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to meet the $3.6 million of additional funding we’re going to need to support the costs associated with COVID,” Crawford said. “Usually I present budgets, they’re a balanced budget and I can get through them. This one, I can’t do that and the other districts across the state can’t do that.”

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