Officials outline details at a virtual community forum Tuesday night

By Hope McKinney

EGSD has come up with a plan for the 2020-21 school year – a hybrid approach for all students – that’s gotten the go-ahead from the state Dept. of Education for middle and high school students but not yet for elementary students. 

That was one of the takeaways from the district’s virtual community forum Tuesday night. At least 400 people logged into the Zoom session, according to Supt. Alexis Meyer.

Michael Podraza, assistant superintendent of schools, said students at the high school and middle school will be split into two groups, with the first half of the alphabet attending in-person classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with distance learning on Thursdays and Fridays. The other half will attend in-person on Thursdays and Fridays, with distance learning on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Classroom capacity will be 15 people per classroom. 

EGSD has proposed to RIDE that elementary schools be allowed to open under the partial in-person model as well, with 50 percent of students attending two days a week, and the other 50 percent attending the other two days, and both groups doing distance learning on the alternate two days at home. This would allow for smaller, stable groups of students in classrooms (13 to 15 instead of 30, plus adults) to help with the necessary 6 feet for social distancing. 

“A more phased-in approach across all students would be beneficial for East Greenwich public schools and the safety of the entire community,” Podraza said. “It allows us to open schools under the ‘new normal’ and open up with more space to get students used to being further apart from one another, the use of masks, hand sanitizers, and distancing.” 

However, Superintendent Alexis Meyer and Podraza emphasized that Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDE would make the ultimate decision on what scenario will be approved. RIDE has pushed for 100 percent in-person learning for elementary age students. 

Under the district’s plan, Mondays would be days for students to take part in individualized learning and for teachers to have professional development opportunities, common planning time and training in distance learning. 

Vulnerable populations – particularly students with special needs – would be prioritized for in-person learning, receiving instruction up to five days per week according to their individual needs. Lisa Hughes, director of student services, said meetings will be held weekly until schools reopen for families who want to hear more about plans for students who have individualized education plans (IEPs). 

To the question of what happens if a student, teacher or family member tests positive for COVID-19, Meyer said the Department of Health will provide a “playbook” to districts for how to respond.

Lunches will mostly take place in classrooms. Places of congregation – cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms and playgrounds – will have limited use with small groups. 

What will happen with athletics and extracurricular activities has yet to be determined based on requirements from the state Dept. of Health and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.  

Regardless of what RIDE approves for the reopening model, new plans will be put in place to limit large gatherings. This includes rerouting of hallways and bathrooms, scheduling nurse visitations, limiting visitors, increased frequency of cleaning, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) in classrooms, breakfast and lunch distribution, adjusted arrival and dismissal schedules, and absence procedures (an individual must stay home if they have any illness symptoms). 

Meyer said a survey will be distributed as soon as this week to determine distance learning requests from families, such as for students who are unable to attend in-person school for medical reasons or based on a family choice. She said RIDE may provide a “distance learning academy,” although there may not be enough seats for everybody in the state. The district is waiting for more information on the academy’s structure, format and availability. 

Meyer* said there will be three tiers for bus arrivals with full in-person learning. Tier one is at 8 a.m. for East Greenwich High School and Archie R. Cole Middle School. Tier two is at 8:45 a.m. for Eldredge Elementary School and Hanaford Elementary School. Tier three is at 9:30 a.m. for Frenchtown Elementary School and Meadowbrook Farms Elementary School. Masks will be mandatory on buses. There will be assigned seats with one student per seat, although siblings may sit together. Musella said busing for special education students is slated to remain as it has been.

Robert Wilmarth, the district facilities director, said arrivals and dismissals will have to change slightly as bus ridership will probably decrease on buses and parent drop-offs will increase, causing increased traffic. New traffic flows will be examined to determine the best way to efficiently manage traffic. A tiered release will also be considered for parent pick up.

Wilmarth also said there will be increased infection and cleaning protocols and that much of this has already been implemented. He is determining how to keep things disinfected and how much staff is necessary to accomplish that. The disinfectants used are already approved by the CDC. He said that help from teachers and students to keep their individual areas sanitized will also be necessary. 

Wilmarth added that there must be increased PPE, including all students and staff bringing their own masks. The district will provide backup face shields, goggles, gowns, thermometers, lab coats, plexiglass dividers and screens. 

He also said that the nurse’s areas may need to be expanded to accommodate additional students. Lunch service may need to be adjusted as lunches and breakfasts may need to be provided. Additional custodians may also be necessary throughout the day to disinfect bathrooms and common areas. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning will continue to be checked to make sure it’s running efficiently, along with plumbing. Water fountains will be turned off, only allowing for water bottle refills.  

Of 400 people attended the forum, many chimed in with questions about reopening details. There were multiple questions from working parents about whether or not before and after school care and childcare will be accommodated. Meyer said she doesn’t yet know about a community response to childcare. However, she said plans are evolving for before and after school care. 

“You have been incredibly gracious in your emails and for that I am thankful,” Meyer said.  “What you have to say is important and meaningful to all of us.”

Meyer said that feedback from RIDE and RIDOH is expected by July 31 and modifications to their current reopening plans are fully anticipated. Podraza said parent feedback is crucial. 

“Once we get things approved, we will try to pump out as much information as possible,” Podraza said. 

Additional school opening meetings will be held in August: a School Health and Safety Forum August 4, and a Social Emotional Health meeting August 18. For EGSD information regarding the reopening plans, head here.  For RIDE updates on COVID-19, back to school guidance and regularly updated FAQs, go here.

*An earlier version of this story stated School Committee member Anne Musella presented the transportation information. That was incorrect. We regret the error.


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