School COVID Policies: More Confusing This Year

by | Sep 16, 2021

Above: The School Committee meeting Tuesday (9/14),

Supt. Alexis Meyer updated the School Committee about school COVID-19 policies Tuesday night, acknowledging there is confusion.

“Last year was much clearer,” she said. “Yesterday I met with the PTG presidents. I do that monthly and one of the parents said, ‘Last year it seemed so much clearer, what the protocols were, what the information was.’ And she’s absolutely right.”

Some of the confusion is because of the Delta variant. Guidance developed in June and July for this school year had to be revised when cases started climbing in August. And some of the confusion is because restrictions – even with the variant – have been loosened since last year, a reflection of vaccinations and continued understanding of how COVID-19 is spread.

Meyer outlined some of the basic protocols in place this year, noting they are based on Back to School RI, a compilation of information from the state departments of health and education. 

Right now, 90 percent of all teachers and school staff in the state are vaccinated, Meyer said. In East Greenwich, almost 70 percent of eligible students (those 12 and older) are vaccinated – the highest in the state. School Committee member Tim Munoz said he would have thought the percentage would be even higher and wondered why 30 percent of eligible students hadn’t yet been vaccinated. Meyer said they did not have information about why some students haven’t gotten the vaccine but said she hoped the percentage would continue to climb in coming weeks and months.

While vaccination, hand washing and wearing a face mask indoors are all important in the fight against COVID, Meyer said the one message she keeps pushing is for students and staff to stay home if they are sick so they do not spread the virus. Infected people can force others into quarantine. 

So, what is a “close contact” this year? Someone who is within 6 feet of an infected person, with or without a face mask, for a cumulative 15 minutes over 24 hours (it could be three five-minute periods) or someone with unprotected direct contact with secretions or excretions of a person with confirmed COVID-19 in an indoor or outdoor environment (i.e. an infected person coughs directly in your face). On buses, close contacts are the two rows in front and behind the infected person, on both sides of the bus (a change from last year).

Close contacts will need to quarantine for seven days with a negative test on day 5 or later. Vaccinated individuals, however, do NOT need to quarantine, but all close contacts – regardless of vaccination status – must get tested. 

Before the school year began, the R.I. Department of Health said there were six positive cases among students and staff. Because it was before the first day of classes, there was no impact on the schools. However, since Tuesday, two people from the school community have tested positive, one staff member and one student. According to Supt. Meyer, these latest positive cases have forced some people into quarantine. She did not provide the number of those affected. 

At the meeting Tuesday, Meyer reiterated there is no provision at this time for “hybrid” learning, i.e. a student attending class virtually. 

Parent Lisa Pomeroy questioned that approach. 

“My concern is that the students who are being quarantined, either with COVID or due to an exposure at school, what sort of an education are they receiving?” she asked via Zoom during public comment. “If it’s purely asynchronous, they’re missing out on everything that’s happening in class. How are you going to educate those children?”

“At this time, we are not considering a hybrid or a zoom-in model, but an asynchronous model with opportunities for teachers to connect individually with the student as they can make that work with their schedules,” Meyer said.

“We did put in place a district policy … that empowers our superintendent to revert to or declare distance learning .. if the situation requires,” said School Committee Chair Anne Musella. “So Mrs. Meyer has the authority to do that. I’ve had these very same questions that you’re asking. If half of the class is distance learning … what is the tipping point?”

There was no tipping point outlined Tuesday. Meyer’s message to the community: Stay home if you are sick.

No members of the general public attended the School Committee meeting Tuesday (9/14) in person.

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