By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Uncertainties abound, but most parents in East Greenwich want their children to make a full return to school in September, according to preliminary results from a district survey sent to families earlier this month.
The survey asked, “Assuming appropriate safety measures are in place, what is your preference for how your child returns to school in the fall?” The choices – all in-person, a mix of in-person and distance learning, and all distance learning – echo the three types of plans all districts must submit to the state Dept. of Education (RIDE) by Friday (7/17).
The district, which has around 2,500 students (from 1,618 families), has gotten 1,109 responses so far. Of those, 61 percent said they were in favor of all in-person school; 27 percent said they would favor a mix of in-person and distance learning; and 11 percent said they preferred all distance learning.
Getting to all in-person or even a mix of in-person and distance learning will require a lot of planning. To that end, Supt. Alexis Meyer last week outlined the different groups working on this.
There’s the larger reopening steering committee led by School Committee member Alyson Powell. And there are a number of smaller working groups, including:
- Public Health and Safety – facilitated by school nurses Denise Sullivan and Bonnie Simmons.
- Operations and Logistics – facilitated by Bob Wilmarth, the district’s facilities director, and including everything from how students will move in school buildings, necessary signage, and what lunches will look like.
- Teaching and Learning and Professional Development – Asst. Supt. Mike Podraza is heading up that effort.
- Transportation – School Committee member Anne Musella is leading this committee.
- Special needs – facilitated by Special Education director Lisa Hughes
- Social-emotional health – led by School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark.
What school looks like will depend on the course of the COVID-19 virus. Rhode Island’s virus cases are low, but when cooler temperatures arrive and people are spending more time indoors, that could change. At a press conference in late spring, Gov. Raimondo talked about being able to pivot depending on the circumstances. If one school is suddenly beset by a number of virus cases, the district should be able to quickly transition to more distance learning, at least for a few weeks.
Will all the teachers come back? So far, Meyer said, she has only fielded questions. No new retirements or resignations have come in. That might change, depending on how the district decides to reopen.
But another huge elephant in the room is money – how to cover the extra virus-related costs. At this point, the district, the town and the state are all looking to Washington D.C., with hope there will be additional federal funds targeting schools and municipalities. But an answer to that question is weeks away, at best.
The School Committee will discuss reopening plans at its virtual meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Also on the agenda is the search for new EGHS principal and vice principal. Find the full agenda here: School Committee Agenda 7-14-20.
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I don’t feel at all confident that this is a good idea. I don’t have any specific suggestions, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we’ve seen what has happened in other states as far as large groups of people. What about parents who won’t allow their children to wear masks? What about at-risk children, teachers and other school employees?