Elementary & ‘vulnerable’ students would have in-person school; middle & high schoolers would do a mix of in-person & distance

By Hope McKinney

In the midst of the constantly changing landscape that is 2020, Supt. Alexis Meyer presented the vision for East Greenwich public schools come Aug. 31 to the School Committee Tuesday night. Needless to say, the plan is subject to change depending on the trajectory of COVID-19 in the state.

Under Meyer’s scenario, elementary school students would attend in-person school five days a week in “stable pods” of around 25 students. When moving through the building, elementary students would be required to wear masks and maintain proper social distancing but when in their stable groups, they would be allowed to remove their masks.

Meyer noted that stable groups aren’t realistic for middle and high school students, and would likely diminish their experience. Instead, she said, a plan is being finalized to embrace a partial model for these students – 50 percent of students will come in two days a week and another 50 percent will come in the other two days. This will be based on alphabetical distinction across all schools, in case learning needs to be shifted to partial or limited learning, allowing for consistency among schools and will provide similar schedules for families. These students – and staff – would be required to wear masks during the school day.

Meyer said “vulnerable” students would be allowed to attend school in-person no matter what, barring a government-mandated lockdown. As deemed by the state Department of Education, vulnerable students include students with special needs, students who are at-risk, those facing socio-economic demands, or those directly affected by COVID-19 (Meyer acknowledged she was unclear what that final category meant). 

As required by the state Department of Health, the reopening plan would also require families to complete a daily “attestation” of health at home which would then be submitted to the district. There would be no routine in-school temperature checks, Meyer said. District medical consultant Howard Silversmith, M.D., and the other physicians on the reopening steering committee have come to the conclusion temperature checks aren’t reliable.

Silversmith and the district’s nursing staff will be part of a community forum Aug. 4 to provide information about reopening safety measures and to answer questions. Meyer said additional forums in August are being planned, one around the social and emotional health of families and students and another the week before school opens to go over logistics about what school will look like. 

Transportation is a big part of the reopening plans. School Committee member Anne Musella, head of the transportation subcommittee, said the district will not be able to offer what it has in the past while following CDC social distancing guidelines. “We don’t have enough buses to double or triple our fleet,” she said, noting the partial in-person plan for Cole and EGHS would ease the transportation challenges. 

Meyer said plans may need to shift and adapt to new information, such as additional guidance from RIDOH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“We will need to be flexible and nimble in our work,” she said.

Questions remain, including how the district will process distance learning requests and how teachers will be expected to handle teaching in a classroom as well as teaching students who are distance learning. 

Meyer acknowledged the uncertainty. 

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “There just are at this point.”

The School Committee next meets Tuesday, Aug. 11.


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