July 31, 2020
Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
Each week, we will be providing a Return to School Committee Report. This 7th edition of the weekly report includes information about RIDE feedback on our plan, an update on bus transportation, information on a choice virtual program for Smithfield and a report from the three Return to School sub-committees.
RIDE Feedback on Smithfield’s Plan
The Rhode Island Department of Education released feedback on district return to school plans to each district. For Smithfield, RIDE recognized that we included plans for all three reopening scenarios and have considered all assurances provided in the guidance. The reviewers were asked to identify areas that were particularly creative, comprehensively considered, or equity focused. For Smithfield, these were:
Robust learnings from Spring distance learning efforts with significant feedback from families and staff incorporated
Universal training on trauma-informed practices
Model classrooms with photos demonstrate operationalizing the use of physical space has been comprehensively planned.
Reviewers also identified at least 1-2 areas that need to be further built out or are misaligned with guidance from RIDE or RIDOH. For Smithfield, these were:
MS Pods - Stable groupings larger than 30 for middle schoolers. No stable grouping efforts made for high schoolers. Instead, relying on mask wearing and social distancing (front facing desks).
Transportation - Since the HS transportation plan relies heavily on students driving themselves, students who drive themselves to school should be given guidance on giving rides to other students - ideally only those students with whom they are in regular contact, with masks on, windows down, etc.
A-B Days Based on Alpha Order for MS and HS - Student participation of in-person days based on alpha order raises equity concerns in terms of mix of students and needs. How will this work?
Assemblies - For high school, regarding maintaining and building relationships, the plan says “Schoolwide and grade-level assemblies and guest speaker series are commonplace at SHS and would be migrated to a virtual setting in the event of a distance learning scenario.” Does this mean school-wide assemblies will still be held in person, in a reopening scenario? If so, how will students and faculty be protected and RIDOH guidelines followed?
We reviewed our plan specifically for these items and pulled together additional information to provide the following responses, which will be incorporated into our plan over the next week:
MS Pods - The GMS schedule was adjusted to reduce the exposure of students to the greatest degree possible without losing the course choices and the middle school structure. With a virtual learning option and a potential A/B schedule, the number of students in-person in each class will dramatically decrease. In grades six and seven, students have classes on their team - the core classes and intervention block - for 5 of the 7 daily periods and will change classrooms for their four core subjects. We will utilize one of their core classrooms for their explorer classes and the team interventions period. In the explorer classes, the students will not mix with students from the other team. In grade eight, students have more choice for their explorer classes, so it is not possible to create pods for those classes. All students will be required to wear masks and follow physical distancing measures. Students will eat lunch in a team classroom.
Transportation - The transportation strategy for our plan is provided on pages 91-96 of our plan. There is no specific mention of students driving themselves so it is unclear why the reviewers believe that the “plan relies heavily on students driving themselves.” Of these 4 pages, one line references such students: “Bus transportation to GMS and SHS still includes too many students, however, we are calling those who did not respond to the survey and we will be excluding students who have parking passes.” In the past, the bus company created runs for all students - whether or not they drive themselves. This is an inefficient process that results in high costs for bus transportation in Smithfield. Even after the COVID-19 crisis is over, we will be looking at ways to cut transportation costs by scheduling bus transportation only for those who need it. While we do not expect any more student drivers than in previous years, the recommendation of the RIDE reviewer is valid for all districts who have any students driving themselves to school. We will be providing guidance to such students on giving rides to other students.
A-B Days - Should the district employ A-B days, some students with special needs will be in programming that meets every day, even though other secondary students may be going into school buildings every other day. For GMS and SHS, the group attending in-person on A days and the group attending in-person on B days are similar in make-up. Below is data supporting this assertion:
Students with Individualized Education Plans at GMS and SHS
A Deeper Look
Full time in person**
Virtual Option per survey***
Home School per survey***
*Projections for A/B Schedule based on current level of service, but with plans to address learning loss, may need a full in person program
**Projections for full time based on current classroom and current level of service required. Families may opt for an A/B Day schedule or distance learning.
*** Data taken from parent survey for distance learning preference and home school
There are only 8 students with English language learning needs in grades 6-12.
Assemblies - The language of the plan relating to assemblies was unclear. Although we find assemblies to be valuable learning experiences, in all scenarios, assembly-type programming will be virtual to eliminate the need for large gatherings of students.
Bus Transportation Update
We are able to accommodate all elementary students who live outside of the 1-mile walk zone who have not opted out of bus transportation. We will be working with our bus company next week to determine if we can shrink the zone and/or provide transportation to daycare providers.
For the SHS and GMS bus run, there are twice as many students as can be accommodated on available buses. Since the RIDE guidance provides the option to have secondary students in school buildings every other day with asynchronous distance learning provided on the other day, we will have half as many students riding the bus each day, alleviating our transportation issue. It is very likely that the district will employ this option, however, we will formally make that decision after the registration process for the virtual choice program.
Update from the Subcommittees
Leadership and Communications Subcommittee
The Leadership and Communications Subcommittee will be providing formal feedback to the plan reviewers and will be adjusting our plan based upon new guidance. Additionally, our COVID-19 page on the district website will be updated and weekly reports to the community will continue. The group will produce short videos to teach students new protocols and good practices. Last, this committee is responsible for keeping the entire group up to date with new information.
Instructional Core and Social-Emotional Learning Subcommittee
The Instructional/SEL Subcommittee is currently exploring a virtual option for students who do not feel comfortable returning to in-person classes. In this option, students would receive Chromebooks and instructional materials. Teachers would post materials and assignments to Google Classroom daily and would be responsible to "meet" with students periodically and provide feedback on work. The virtual choice option is different than the full distance-learning option that we delivered in the spring as it would not include daily live lessons. In the latest survey, parents of approximately 35% of students have indicated a preference for distance learning. A registration process for the virtual option will begin next week and further work will be done to refine the option.
In addition, the committee is developing teacher guidance documents, solidifying schedules, revising attendance processes, and developing protocols for special subject areas including recess, physical education, music, visual arts, and library.
Operations and Resources Subcommittee
The Operations and Resources Subcommittee is continuing to research and place orders for PPEs and other items necessary for the start of school. They are waiting to hear back from the state on items that are available from the stockpile. Signage has been ordered and received and the maintenance staff have begun installation. Protocols for cleaning classrooms between use by different groups are being further refined. Distribution plans for Chromebooks and instructional materials for a full distance learning scenario will be developed. Last, the group is scheduling another meeting with Chartwells to work out the final details with breakfast and lunch service at all locations.
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent and Members of the Return to School Committee