State officials announce guidance on return to in-person schooling

PROVIDENCE – Field trips resuming, optional mask wearing for vaccinated individuals, and no capacity limits on buses are some of the recommended guidance state officials announced Wednesday for an in-person return to school across Rhode Island come the fall.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee, along with R.I. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, publicly addressed the new guidance at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. The state is preparing for a full return to public education after a year of having a mix of hybrid, online and in-person learning all last academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The R.I. Department of Education noted that to date, close to 90% of all Rhode Island teachers and staff are fully vaccinated. About 60% of Rhode Island teenagers ages 16-18 and more than 40% of children ages 12-15 are fully vaccinated.

RIDE said the guidance issued Wednesday was based on the availability of vaccines, increased testing access and stabilizing infection rates in the state. However, only children as young as 12 are eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

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McKee said in a statement one of his team’s priorities has been getting students fully back into classrooms this fall. He said the guidance, plus the state’s strong vaccination rates, “put Rhode Island in a good place to ensure our students can be back in school where they learn best.”

According to the seven-page document posted on the state’s new guidance website,, local education agencies are no longer required to provide distance learning as an option for students and families. But, RIDE said the LEAs will still need to develop plans to make sure services are still provided in the event a child must stay home for short periods due to illness, isolation or quarantine.

RIDE also said it will review requests from LEAs that want to implement full virtual learning days for all students in the district such as a virtual snow day. Families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness, including those with special health care needs or who live with people at high risk, are encouraged to reach out to their school district and to review their health plan, 504 plan, and/or individualized education plan, RIDE said.

“The deliberate, science-based approach we are taking to the return to in-person learning in the fall will help us give every student in every zip code in Rhode Island an opportunity to thrive in the classroom,” Alexander-Scott said in a statement. “Building on a year and a half of unprecedented partnership, we are going to be providing school communities with on-going support and making sure that families and eligible students have every opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19 between now and the first day of school.”

RIDE also said it will continue to recommend stable groups of students where possible, especially with age groups not yet vaccine eligible. Physical distancing won’t be required for stable groups or students who are vaccine eligible, RIDE said. However, RIDE said it will recommend indoor activities in shared spaces have three feet of space for non-stable elementary school groups and age groups that are not eligible for full vaccination.

Regarding masks, RIDE said the state strongly recommends that education agencies require all unvaccinated individuals wear masks while indoors. Mask use for fully vaccinated individuals is optional, RIDE said. It also said that outdoor dining and learning experiences are encouraged and seating charts will continue to be recommended for classrooms and school buses.

Mask wearing on buses will still be mandated as it is a federal requirement to wear such on public transportation until further notice, RIDE said. There will be no capacity limits on buses, RIDE said, but will continue to recommend distance between riders.

Field trips can resume, RIDE said, provided that necessary health and safety measures are in place.

Infante-Green said in a statement that it is “crucial” for the state to accelerate learning and there is “no substitute for in-person learning.”

“Rhode Island led the way in distance learning and safely transitioned to the classroom in the midst of a pandemic, and we will continue our collaboration to keep students safe and help them grow as we work to move past COVID-19,” Infante-Green said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.