Above: EG schools have lots of picnic tables now so students can eat outside – one of the COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
In another step towards normal after 13+ months of pandemic living, most students at Cole Middle School and East Greenwich High School will return to full in-school instruction on Monday, April 26.
“I think it will be wonderful to have them in and get them adjusted to a typical schedule again,” said Supt. Alexis Meyer Thursday.
The School Committee voted for the switch earlier this month, based on the vaccination rollout, the lower number of overall cases of COVID-19 and the state Department of Education’s decision allowing 3 feet of distance in classrooms, down from 6 feet. Some parents also urged the return to full in-person, reciting stories of student depression, poor grades and withdrawal from social situations.
Both the middle and high schools have been following a hybrid model until now, with students divided alphabetically – the first half of the alphabet going to school half the week and the rest of the students going to school the other half of the week, allowing for 6 feet of distance. When students were home, they were following along with what was happening in the classroom (i.e. synchronous learning). Elementary school students have been going to school five days a week since October.
The School Committee’s decision April 6 did away with the hybrid approach and families were given the option to either go full in-person or full distance learning. Meyer said of the 1,408 responses from families, 84 percent chose to return to full in-person school and 15.9 percent chose distance. Under the hybrid model, 21.5 percent were distance learners.
Meyer said she chose April 26 as the start date because by then all teachers who got the vaccine would be at least two weeks past their second dose. Also, the school vacation week has given the district time to set up classrooms for more students again. That means desks coming out of containers that have sat outside each of the schools all year. And the addition of tents and picnic tables.
Students (and staff) will continue to wear masks except during lunch so that’s what school officials have been thinking about – figuring out where students can sit and eat safely. The tents and picnic tables will help, as will Mother Nature for good weather. Each school is getting two 30×30 foot tents that can be used for classes, lunches and other activities as needed.
With vaccination eligibility now opened to everyone 16 and older, some high schools students can get vaccinated, but most students are still too young. The 3-foot distance may lead to more students having to quarantine based on contact tracing protocols. Nevertheless, this return offers students, especially high school seniors, several weeks of school with all of their peers and with daily (masked) face-to-face interactions with teachers and other staff. That, says Supt. Meyer, is a good thing.