Above: R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green (center) talks about how schools will reopen this fall. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal
By Hope McKinney
On Wednesday, there were 66 new positive cases, for a total of 15,756 cases. There were 4 deaths, bringing the death toll to 812 people. The number of hospitalizations remains steady at 148 people. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich is 71. Find all the latest data on the DOH data dashboard HERE.
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that public schools will work toward returning to in-person teaching on Aug. 31.
“I don’t know exactly what Aug. 31 will look like,” she said. “This entire time, I have led based on science, data and facts and that won’t change. But the CDC and our own Department of Health experts and all public health experts say that when you’re in Phase 3, it’s safe to open school.”
The Department of Education will be working with school districts to develop plans for many different contingencies. Each district will need a plan for nearly all students being in school, a plan for a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning, and a plan for virtual learning in case of a resurgence of COVID. The department released a statewide calendar for the school year, the first time the entire state will be on the same calendar (RIDE Statewide School_Calendar 2020-21).
Districts will be assigned a representative from RIDE to get feedback on their initial plans. By June 19, guidance to schools laying out the minimum health and safety requirements will be up on RIDE’s website and reopeningRI.com. These plans must be submitted to RIDE for feedback by July 17.
Throughout the summer, RIDE and the Department of Health will provide support to school districts and share the most up to date information.
“We do not have all the answers today and life is going to change between today and the end of August, but if we’ve learned one thing in the past three months, we’ve learned how to be flexible.” Raimondo said.
Winter vacation will be from February 15 to February 19. Spring vacation will be from April 19 to April 23. There will be eight professional development days which will also be virtual learning days for students. Although snow days will still be determined at the district level, these designated days will now be held through virtual learning.
“I know, might be some disappointed children in the room,” Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said. “But the snow days the way we knew them before are gone. We can do distant virtual learning.”
Distance learning will also be incorporated for kids or teachers who are in quarantine, if necessary.
Raimondo noted that reopening schools will likely include more cleaning, staggered start times, tripling bus routes and mask-wearing. In the time before school starts, information will continue to be updated.
If any teachers are immunocompromised and worried about returning to school or losing their job, Green said they will work with individual cases to figure this out and continue to provide instruction.
“No one can go in the school building sick,” Raimondo said. “I’m a mother and I think I can speak for all moms and dads and kids; we’ve all sent our kids to school at a point in time when they had the sniffles. We thought they were well enough to go to school. We can’t do that anymore.”
She acknowledged that meeting health and safety requirements to reopen schools will cost more.
To meet these needs, $42 million will be distributed in CARES Act funding to schools to support the safe return of students and teachers.
“I expect more resources may be necessary above and beyond the $42 million,” she said. “I’m prepared to use additional of Rhode Island’s federal stimulus emergency money to help our cities and towns.”
Raimondo thanked students, parents, teachers, superintendents and principals for leaning into distance learning. She reassured teachers she understands their worries and will make sure going back to school will be safe and successful.
“This is possible,” she said. “It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna require extra thought, patience and extra hard work, creativity, and we are right there with you as you lead your communities through this.”
RIDE is encouraging private schools to also follow the statewide calendar but those decisions will be made at the school level. (Many private schools have had one spring vacation instead of the February and April breaks most public schools offer, as well as other calendar differences.) Private schools will have to follow the same minimum health and safety requirements.
Raimondo also recognized that every community is different, especially due to the fact that certain communities have a higher prevalence of COVID.
“I believe that’ll be very different by the end of the summer,” she said.
She then highlighted how hard the past few months have been for the class of 2020. She reiterated that there will be a special celebration called “Your Year 2020” on June 15 at 7 p.m., aired on Rhode Island PBS. Right after this ceremony, there will be a virtual concert for graduates called “United for Grads,” with performances from Grammy-nominated musicians.
Raimondo also announced that SNAP participants will be able to buy their groceries online using their EBT card on Amazon and participating Walmart stores.
“It’s been especially hard on folks who are already vulnerable – already poor, already out of work, already frail,” she said. “Buying food online makes your life a little easier; a little less hectic.”
The Department of Human Services received approval to issue an emergency, one-time payment to families currently receiving RI Works cash assistance benefits, as well. The money will go directly on the EBT card starting on June 19. The amount received is based on the size of the household. A family of three will receive a one-time additional payment of $550. More information on this can be found HERE.
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