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Return to School Planning Report #6
Return to School Planning Report #6
Judith Paolucci
Friday, July 24, 2020

Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,

Each week, we will be providing a Return to School Committee Report. This 6th edition of the weekly report includes an update on bus transportation, information on RIDE and CDC guidance, and updates from the three Return to School sub-committees.

Bus Transportation Update

As you know, we asked that all parents complete the opt in/opt out form: [https://forms.gle/JHkzqZ64WxqNLcrx7].  After removing all students living in the walk zone from the bus list then removing all who opt out, we assessed whether or not we have enough buses for each bus run.  Here’s where we now stand:

Elementary Bus Runs - All 4 schools have enough students in the walk zone or opting out to be accommodated by the current number of buses in our fleet.  In fact, there may be room for adding some students at the far reaches of the walk zone back on bus lists and/or accommodate those who need to go to after school daycares.  

Middle and High Bus Run - Although buses are usually only partially full on a normal year, we do not yet have enough students in the walk zone or opting out to be accommodated by the current number of buses in our fleet. Some students only need transportation after school, however, we need to keep pods consistent so we cannot fill their empty seats in the morning with other students.  Also, far more students need transportation only in the afternoon than only in the morning.  We appreciate the parents who responded to our survey this week.  We now have only a small portion of the students without accurate data.  Our next option is to get a price for adding an additional bus run (separating the SHS and GMS students).  This would change school start times slightly.  Another option would be to have certain grade level students come in every other day (the hybrid plan).  

Here’s an example of how we determine if we have enough seats:

School X:  280 students -98 in walk zone or opting out = 182.  182-45 siblings (who can sit with their sibling) = 137.  There are 24 benches per bus so 6 buses are needed and 6 buses are available.

We will be meeting with our bus company next week to further assess in anticipation of sending out letters to parents about their transportation option.

New Guidance Available

Part of our task is to keep up with all guidance from respected sources, including the CDC.  It is difficult to screen out information being spread through social media on both sides of the issue.  Our responsibility to our community is to develop plans for all 3 scenarios that apply the most up-to-date and trustworthy information.  

This week, guidance was distributed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist Massachusetts districts with Return to School planning.  A few glaring differences between the MA guidance and the RI guidance includes:  remote learning technology grants, waivers for student learning time requirements, more clear guidance for masks (required for grade 2 and above and recommended for K and 1 students), and specifics for classroom space.  Of interest to the many parents who have suggested plexiglass barriers, the MA guidelines do not recommend applying these measures, since they add more surfaces that must be cleaned well between student groups.  

New CDC guidance was also posted this week and is available on this link:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html

Overall, health experts are stressing that a safe return to school is possible and beneficial to students.  This, however, depends strongly on the conditions at the location in which schools are opening.

Update from the Subcommittees

Leadership and Communications Subcommittee

The Leadership and Communications Subcommittee hosted a second Parent Forum on July 14th and a second Staff Forum on July 17th.  Both were well-attended. Additionally, our COVID-19 page on the district website was updated and will include all further information distributed through email and other means.  The link shows up as a red box at the top of our district site and is also available directly through this link:  https://www.smithfield-ps.org/o/smithfield-public-schools/page/reopening-updates

The subcommittee is currently monitoring the responses to the Bus Transportation Survey that was sent out to families on July 3rd and reaching out to families that have not yet responded.  Please excuse us if we call you and you already have responded.  We found a “hiccup” in the survey excel file we didn’t anticipate.  Here’s a link to the survey for those that need it (please do not respond again if you already responded):  https://bit.ly/SPSBus 

Last, many parents have been comparing our plan to those of other districts.  Please realize that not all districts have submitted acceptable plans and may have to revise their plans after RIDE review.  The following email was sent by the Commissioner this week:

Dear LEA Leaders,

First of all, I would like to thank you and your team for submitting your draft reopening plan. We have received them from all LEAs across Rhode Island, once again setting the example for other states to emulate. We know how much work went into this effort, and we appreciate your commitment to getting our students back to school on August 31.

Planning for all four scenarios – distance learning, limited in-person, partial in-person, and full in-person – will allow us to keep our staff and students safe and maximize learning opportunities for all. Final decisions on which scenario we will be using will be driven by data and the latest public health information, and your planning will allow us all to get back to school safely.

While we will follow up with you on the specifics of your plan, I wanted to share a couple of quick observations now, so you can modify your plans as early as possible to be ready for August 31.

·         First, we want to make sure that your plan accounts for both limited and partial in-person options separately. Several districts have merged them into one, generally they are calling this a hybrid approach, but that does not meet the test for these plans. Please ensure that your final plan accounts for both of these scenarios individually.

·         Second, it is critical that all plans include in-person learning for grades PreK-5 as part of their partial and full in-person options. Some plans did not include Pre-K-5 attendance in their partial option. The final plans should include this provision.

·         Third, every LEA should have a plan for instruction via distance learning.  Distance learning will be important throughout each scenario.

Please refer to the RIDE Reopening Guidance for more specifics on these issues.

Many districts are already engaged in sharing their draft plans with their communities. We urge you to continue to do that and to remain transparent with your staff, families, and students every step of the way. It is an honor to work with you and your teams. Please contact RIDE at reentry@ride.ri.gov if you have any questions or concerns regarding modifications to your draft plans.

Instructional Core and Social-Emotional Learning Subcommittee

The Instructional Core and Social-Emotional Learning Subcommittee continues to add details to our distance learning plan to ensure that distance learning builds from the successes of the spring and adds improvements that ensure that students do not develop gaps in their learning.

Next week, a subcommittee, consisting of administrators and teachers, will work together to determine if a choice option can be implemented in Smithfield.  While RIDE guidance did not include this option, we want to be ready if guidance changes.  Many Smithfield parents have expressed interest in such a model.  

Here’s the challenge:  Let's say 25% of families were interested in a distance learning option and that 10 kindergarten students from each of the 4 elementary schools wanted this preference. Let's also say that one of the two OCRS K teachers and one of the two McCabe K teachers wanted to teach through distance learning.  

If we released these teachers to serve as distance K teachers and let the 10 students from each school attend distance learning, we could be left with

McCabe:         1 K teacher,  40 students

OCRS             1 K teacher,  33 students

Winsor            2 teachers, 35 students

LaPerche        2 teachers, 40 students

Clearly, 33 or 40 students in a K class are too many so we would have to move some of the students from McCabe and OCRS to Winsor and LaPerche.  AND we'd be doing this type of moving around for every school and every grade.  Not only do we not have the buses to transport students all over town, but we would have very upset parents who don't want their children split between schools and going to a different school.  The logistics just don't work out at this time.  We’ll think through some other models to see what we may be able to do.  So, stay tuned!  If anyone can figure this out, it's the team we put together!

Operations and Resources Subcommittee

The Operations and Resources Subcommittee has ordered personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, and other equipment to prepare for the return to school. 

In addition, classrooms are being rearranged to maximize the distance between desks and cleaning protocols are being refined. Signage was ordered. 

We expect feedback from RIDE sometime next week and will also be tasked with revising portions of the plan, as needed.  

Sincerely,

Judy Paolucci, Superintendent

and Members of the Return to School Committee