*This story has been amended since it was initially posted.
After more than two hours of discussion and public comment, the School Committee split its vote 4-3 on Supt. Alexis Meyer’s recommendation for a staggered three-week return to in-person school with a goal of full in-person after that if it proves safe.
(To be clear, according to the state, “full in-person” for middle and high school students is actually 50 percent, since students in those grades switch classes regularly and so are not able to maintain “stable pods” as can happen K-5.)
Meyer presented a document outlining just what will happen the first three weeks of school. It’s complicated. Special needs students in “life skills” classrooms will return to full in-person school on Sept. 14. Everyone else will initially follow either a distance learning model or a partial in-person model.
At the middle and high school level, according to Meyer, the idea is to give those students who are in a transition year (from elementary to middle or middle to high) an in-person start, so 6th, 9th, and 12th graders will have two days of in-person learning starting the week of Sept. 14. Students who are not “in transition” – i.e. 7th, 8th, 10th and 11 grade students – will spend that first week in distance learning. After that, all middle and high school students will be on a two-day in-person, two-day distance schedule, with all students following asynchronous learning every Monday. Those Mondays, said Meyer, would be instructional days.
Elementary students would start with a 50 percent model, with two days in school, two days distance learning, depending (like at the middle and high school levels) where your name falls alphabetically (refer to the document below, with these changes: Deleted: “However, to ensure our transition back to school is as safe as possible, we propose reopening all of our schools under the partial/limited in-person model, with fifty percent (50%) of students attending at one time, on alternating two-day schedules. A limited in person model allows for appropriate social distancing based on the square footage and current enrollment” and ” ***Meeting patterns for after 10/3 will be reevaluated and crafted based on State reopening guidance, metrics, and the District’s ability to continue to meet all health, safety and social distancing guidelines.***” Instead: this language was added: “Contingent upon its ability to meet or continue to meet applicable health and safety directives, after October 2nd, the District shall begin to implement plans for full in-person learning by October 14th” and “Prior to, throughout, and following the staggered reopening of our schools, the District shall adhere to its non-delegable duty to continuously evaluate its ability to meet applicable health and safety guidelines and directives.”).
So, middle and high school students would essentially start school the way it’s planned they will continue school. It’s the elementary school students that would be “staggering.” Meyer said the district needed that stagger time to figure out how everyone fits in the elementary schools since East Greenwich doesn’t have much if any “extra” room. Some classes are tighter than others and at least three teachers and a couple of School Committee members said they’d heard from people at the high school and other schools that even 3 feet of distance was a stretch in many classrooms.
Committeeman Dronzek said distance was only part of the picture and not the most important part.
“The number one thing is wear a mask. If you can keep 6 feet apart, great…. The absolute standard is “wear a mask” – the rest is aspirational. You try your best in everything but the number one thing is the mask.”
Megan Ranney, an EG parent, ER doctor who has become a national voice on COVID-19, and district advisor, after the meeting said, “I can’t emphasize enough that the most important parts of this plan – more than social distancing, more than buses – are universal mask-wearing by all staff and all students, and low rates of COVID-19 in our community.”
Right now, East Greenwich has very low COVID-19 transmission.
Ranney said she and her husband were planning to send their children back to school in EG, with one child going into 3rd grade and one into 6th.
With regard to mask wearing, it is required for any students who are attending in-person school, Meyer said. If a student refuses, the building principal would get involved and parents would be notified.
Chairwoman Mark announced at the start of the meeting the committee had approved memoranda of agreement with both the teachers and paraprofessional (aide) unions regarding the reopening of schools, but it was clear during public comment that several teachers and at least one school nurse still question the return to in-person learning. Teacher union representative Donna McPhee noted that although the School Committee had approved the Teacher-District MOU, the teachers union had not yet voted on it. There was no timing given for either union’s vote.
School Committee members struggled to understand just what would happen in October, after the “staggered” beginning. In the end, members Anne Musella, Alyson Powell and Gene Quinn were not convinced the motion offered by Matt Plain provided another chance for the committee to weigh in before a move in October to full in-person.
Those members voted against the plan, with Chair Carolyn Mark, Vice Chair Lori McEwen, Dronzek and Plain voting in favor.
“I am not prepared at this time to vote for any date certain to return to full in-person learning, and I felt that that was the purpose of the motion,” said Powell after the meeting.
“I felt that approving [the language of the motion] is essentially approving full in-person learning, and I do not believe we have enough information to make that decision. We do not have a complete picture of how many of our classrooms can meet even 3-foot distances, comply with fire code, etc.,” Musella said via text after the meeting.
“The only reason I voted no was because I thought the wording of the motion could be interpreted as a blanket approval for the October decision. In no way does it reflect a lack of confidence in the plan or the superintendent,” said Quinn after the meeting. “I believe that until we have the superintendent’s recommendation in October there should be no presumption of the outcome.”
“We definitely got hung up on semantics,” said Chair Carolyn Mark after the meeting. “I thought the language was clear that full in-person was contingent on meeting safety standards and that we as a committee would make that determination with district administration. [Musella, Powell and Quinn] didn’t feel that language was clear enough.”
But, Mark added, “The important thing to come out of this is that [Supt. Meyer] has unanimous support for the staggered reentry. The disagreement was really whether we wanted to make a collective statement that the goal is full in-person K-5.”
You can watch the entire meeting HERE.