By Anne Musella
I write to extend my gratitude to the community for its perseverance and flexibility during this unprecedented time. East Greenwich School District’s plan has been, and remains, to open its schools to all students in person five days a week. Unlike many other schools in the state and nationwide, East Greenwich Schools have been open in person since the beginning of the school year. Since September, our PreK-5 students have attended in person, reaching five days a week by the first week of October. Grades 6-12 have attended in a hybrid mode, two days in person each week. Full distance learning has been available upon request, and students in vulnerable populations have been able to attend school in person four to five days per week.
The School Committee is grateful for the leadership of our superintendent, our school administrators, and the educators who have demonstrated incredible resilience and dedication to our students. As expressed at the March 2 meeting, the School Committee is also grateful for the outpouring of feedback from the community these last few weeks regarding expanding in-person learning. In particular, we applaud the strong advocacy from our students. Through all of the discussion and correspondence, one thing is crystal clear: While the district has solicited feedback from parents, guardians, and teachers numerous times over the last year, we need more direct feedback from students. Students, we hear you, and we want to hear more.
The coming weeks will bring significant movement. School staff have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated in town-run clinics by April 1. The district’s ReOpening Steering Committee will reconvene, with particular emphasis on the teaching and learning working group. Our administrators, faculty and staff will continue to meet internally. Superintendent Meyer will continue to meet with her newly-constituted student advisory council. Mrs. Meyer is also joining a new statewide working group formed by RIDE and its Educational Operations Center to evaluate existing guidelines and current conditions related to transportation and expanded in-person learning, and to develop appropriate adjustments. We anticipate updated guidance from the CDC, RIDOH and RIDE that we hope will include revised metrics that account for fully vaccinated school staff and lower community spread. With all of that in mind, the School Committee will continue to engage district and school administrators, and the public, in discussions of how these positive developments may impact the remainder of our school year.
District administration is not ruling out a return to full in-person learning this year for those who want it. Any changes recommended by the superintendent and implemented by the district will be in accordance with CDC, RIDOH, and RIDE guidelines, as they may be revised, in close collaboration with the district’s supervising pediatrician and school nurse teachers.
This past year, COVID-related isolation and disruption from their daily lives has led to mental and emotional stress in many children within our schools and beyond. Most of us on the School Committee have school-age children in the district and are experiencing the same challenges that all parents face in this environment. As Superintendent Meyer said at our March 2 meeting, if your child needs help, support is available – within the district and the community. Please reach out to your school administrator, your child’s counselor, or Superintendent Meyer for help. These challenges could linger into the next school year, even as we return to “normal.” As the School Committee engages in budget discussions, please join us in advocating for funding sufficient to increase critical mental health supports.
As a community, we must remain consistent with our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Failure to maintain the key mitigation strategies of mask-wearing and social distancing in our schools puts us at risk of decreasing in-person learning, and of losing spring sports and social activities due to periodic mandated quarantines.
Plans are in the works for, at a minimum, returning grades 6-12 in person on Mondays, spring sports, social activities, and an in-person high school graduation this year. Those plans could expand this year as guidance evolves. All indicators suggest that we should be back to something resembling “normal” next year.
Spring is almost here. As we look ahead to the beginning-of-the-end of COVID-19 as we’ve known it, let us do what we as a community do best. Let us work together in the best interest of our children.
Anne Musella chairs the East Greenwich School Committee.