Local school superintendents say they are awaiting guidance expected June 19 from the state Department of Education for crafting detailed plans for a required report next month about ways each district will handle changes brought by Coronavirus apprehensions.
“The details we don’t what they are, but we’re going to need to be flexible. We’re going to try to open,” said Philip Auger, school superintendent for North Kingstown. Other officials echoed similar comments about their preparation.
State officials are expected in the coming days to release detailed instructions about how districts need to prepare, such as student mask-wearing requirements, especially for younger children who may be resistant for continuous periods of time.
Other questions local officials have include planning for school bus seating and how that affects schedules, classroom design, use of hybrid classes in which some days are online from home and others on-site in the classroom, and meeting the needs of contract employees, such as teachers, whose ages over 60 put them into categories of concern related to contracting the virus.
Linda Savastano, South Kingstown school superintendent, acknowledged to parents they may have questions as well based on an official proposed statewide calendar for school operations for the 2020-21 school year beginning in September.
“We are required to develop a plan that is due to the RI Department of Education in mid-July. It is also the goal of the South Kingstown School Department to reopen schools for all of our students,” she wrote.
“The South Kingstown leadership team has been diligently reviewing state and federal information, Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and frameworks from other states for reopening schools,” she told them.
“Our leadership team will be leading the effort on our re-entry, as they led our virtual learning transformation,” she pointed out, adding that “We are in the process of asking our staff if they can help us. We will also be reaching out to parents and the community as we dig into the feedback and communication for these plans. “
Key points in the schools’ on-site reopening approach include:
All Rhode Island public schools will begin on August 31, 2020.
All Rhode Island students and teachers will have a winter vacation from February 15 through 19, 2021.
All Rhode Island students and teachers will have a spring vacation from April 19 through 23, 2021.
The following days will be statewide professional development days: September 21, October 19, November 16, December 14, January 25, March 15, April 12, and May 17. Those days will be distance learning days for students.
Snow days will still be determined at the district level, and school will be held via distance learning.
Graduations can be held by high schools any time after their 170th day of instruction, which is expected to be June 2.
The statewide school year for students will end on the 180th day of instruction, which is expected to be June 16, 2021. School systems may choose to add instructional days to their calendar beyond the 180-day required statewide calendar.
While RIDE encourages private schools to follow the statewide calendar, those decisions will be made at the school level.
Officials from Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown said that keeping the school environment safe as much as possible, which includes state directives aimed at the same goal, steers the focus of all discussions.
Narragansett’s spokesperson, Lauren Ruggiero, illustrated the discussions in her district around some key points for reopening:
• Fewer kids on buses. It will take additional planning for routes and vehicles with a focus on health and safety of students, staff and drivers. Guidelines from RIDE will help create detailed approaches.
• Masks are likely to be worn by everyone. Administrators are working with district health leaders and others on personal protective equipment needed during the school day to meet guidelines and recommendations. For many very young students and those with disabilities, wearing a mask may be a challenge and officials are looking to RIDE for additional information.
• Desks will be further apart. It will require planning and reconfiguration. RIDE will determine for in-person learning the number of individuals allowed in a room and the district is looking now at multiple scenarios to prepare. These scenarios include changes to school start times, ways classes are organized and scheduling of courses.
• A unified calendar. The district is comparing this calendar to the current one to ensure any necessary changes are made to reflect the unified calendar and then share the revised calendar with parents for planning.
“One surprise for us was the elimination of snow days moving forward, but we’re certainly excited to have a definite end date to help families with their planning,” said Ruggiero.
In her letter to parents, South Kingstown’s Savastano also mentioned snow days.
“Snow days will still be at the discretion of local districts; they will not be statewide. If SKSD does have any snow days, virtual learning lessons can be sent to students and it will be an instructional day. Snow days will not be made up at the end of the school year,” she wrote.
North Kingstown’s Auger said that the Rhode Island School Superintendent’s Association and a similar group of South County superintendents are feeding comments to state education planners on ways to help with any smooth reopening.
“The more definitive guidance we can get, the better it will be,” Auger said.