R.I. to delay school reopening two weeks

GOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO announced that she is delaying in-person school throughout the state due to preparation concerns. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI

PROVIDENCE – After weeks of speculation, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo confirmed that she is delaying the start of the school year in Rhode Island during her coronavirus briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

Rhode Island’s teachers will now return Sept. 9, while the first day for students will be Sept. 14. The original start date was planned for Aug. 31 and every district in Rhode Island would have identical academic schedules.

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The last day of school is set for June 25, which will mean 177 days of schools. Teachers will have three additional professional development days.

RHODE ISLAND has released an updated school calendar for the 2020-21 school year. / COURTESY STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

Raimondo said the shift is to ensure that schools are ready on an operation level, such as outfitting classrooms, implementing precautions for at-risk faculty and students and conducting facility upgrades for better air flow.

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“It gives schools a little bit more time to be ready,” said Raimondo.

Raimondo also announced that she is pushing off the deadline for determining which districts will be fully in-person or partially in-person from Aug. 16 to Aug. 31. She said one of the biggest issues that was pushing back this deadline was district’s testing capacities and if results would return in a proper window of time. The governor previously said that she wanted COVID-19 test results to return within 48 hours.

“We’re not there yet,” said Raimondo, and said that she is looking to also implement rapid testing for students who start to not feel well during the school day. Rhode Island has secured eight rapid testing machines to process rapid testing for schools and has the capacity to run 700 rapid tests per day, and Raimondo said she looks to increase that capacity.

In order to address transportation concerns, Raimondo said the state has put together a team of experts including those from the National Guard, the R.I. Department of Transportation, the R.I. Public Transit Authority to help figure out how to safely get kids to school. Raimondo said some options could include kids walking, biking or scootering to school.

The announcement comes after a letter penned by both the National Education Association of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Healthcare Professionals called for the governor, the R.I. Department of Health and R.I. Department of Education to begin the school year with distance learning, and not before Sept. 9. In addition, the letter said support professionals and educations cannot return to schools for in-person instruction until districts and the state met eight metrics.

These metrics included: a state rate of spread, or R-value, that indicates that the virus is under control, ample rapid testing with a proper response time, successful air quality inspections for every classroom and workspace, mask requirements, social distancing of desks, stable groups of 15, daily temperature checks for all and for a plan for an adequate means of transportation for students entering and leaving schools.

“School is going to be very different this year,” said Raimondo.

Raimondo addressed many pictures that have circulated around social media of schools in other states where students were walking through halls, not social distancing and many were not wearing masks. Raimondo said, “of course” she has seen the photos, but said that these scenarios would not be seen in Rhode Island when schools do reopen.

“That’s not Rhode Island. We are in a much better place in Rhode Island,” said Raimondo. “That’s what we won’t do. We’re not going to open schools until they’re safe.” 

On July 29, Raimondo and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education for the State of Rhode Island Angelica Infante-Green unveiled school reopening guidelines, where Rhode Island would be following five metrics over the course of five weeks in order to determine the nature of reopening of schools. These reopening metrics included: statewide readiness, municipal readiness, testing readiness, supply readiness and operational readiness.

In June, Raimondo had announced plans to return to face-to-face instruction starting on Aug. 31, and said there was “no substitute for in-person learning.” However, during that same time, Rhode Island’s COVID-19 case numbers were plateauing.

Since then, cases of the coronavirus in Rhode Island have increased, averaging triple-digits on some days, resulting in Raimondo asking school districts to develop three different plans for full in-person learning, a hybrid model and a fully virtual plan.

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Gagosz@PBN.com.

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