Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
Each week, we will be providing a Return to School Committee Report. This 11th edition of the weekly report includes information about distributing and collecting papers and books, classroom environments, bus transportation, and updates from the three Return to School sub-committees.
Distributing and Collecting Papers and Books
We continue to attend webinars and meetings to learn about reducing the risk of virus exposure. On Wednesday we had a Zoom meeting with Commissioner Infante-Green, Dr. Alexander-Scott, and Dr. Bromage who provided an overview of facilities guidance and best practices. Dr. Bromage is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His research focuses on the epidemiology of, and immunity to, infectious disease in animals. In addition to guidance described below in the section on classroom environments, Dr. Bromage shared ideas for reducing the risk of virus transmission from distributing or collecting papers and books. Although this risk is rather low to begin with, he advised that teachers use hand sanitizer prior to distributing papers. For collected papers, leaving them in a bin for a day or two ensures that the papers are virus-free before they are handled by teachers. Likewise, teachers can create a book quarantine area where books can be returned then left for a few days before they are added back to the classroom library.
Dr. Bromage understands virus transmission and can translate this understanding to practices involving classroom environments. Working with our RIDOH and RIDE, he has been instrumental in providing expert guidance to school personnel. He describes mitigating measures as layers of protection that reduce risk of virus transmission. These layers include replacing classroom air with outside air (opening windows and doors and using HVAC systems to bring in outside air), filtering air that is recirculated, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. In addition to using this information to assess and mitigate our air handling systems and practices, we have been consulting with GARCIA • GALUSKA • DESOUSA Consulting Engineers Inc. about measures to improve air flow and circulation.
One of the most important statements Dr. Bromage made during his presentation concerned the fact that the choice of mitigating measures is dependent upon the particular situation in a school environment. Is the room an inside classroom or are there windows? What is the state of the HVAC system in the building? Is this a small space or a large space? Understanding that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, we are using a variety of means to improve the classroom environment. These include the use of air filtration systems in nurses’ offices and inside classrooms, making adjustments to existing HVAC systems, changing the locations of fans and exhaust vents, and changing practices relating to doors and windows.
Over the next 2 weeks, a team will be visiting all schools in the state to review the current state of all mitigating measures and will provide specific guidance for making further improvements. We welcome their input as we work to reduce the risk of virus transmission within our schools.
We are close to having all bus routes and bus stops finalized for the upcoming school year. While we usually are able to simply publish a list of stops, this year is a bit different. Children living within the walk zone will not be included on bus lists and cannot be accommodated, given the reduced number of students allowed on buses at any one time. Principals will be given bus lits and we are working on a method to share information with families. Families living within the walk zone have already received letters indicating their status.
The good news is that we were able to accommodate - EVERY DAY - all 6th graders living outside the walk zone who did not opt out of bus transportation. This means that while 7th - 12th graders will have a hybrid, A-Day, B-Day schedule, 6th graders, like the elementary grades, will have in-person instruction every day, should the governor choose this scenario for Rhode Island schools. This decision was made based upon the age of these students as well as the numbers of students who have opted for virtual learning and the availability of bus seats.
Update from the Subcommittees
Leadership and Communications Subcommittee
The last of the school-level parent forums was held this week. Principals have posted information from these forums on their websites. Although the full Return to School Committee has been demobilized, the work of the 3 subcommittees will continue through our administrative team and weekly reports will continue, as will ongoing monitoring of data and new guidance.
Instructional Core and Social-Emotional Learning Subcommittee
Smithfield teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrative assistants returned to school on Wednesday to kick off the year. Following a faculty orientation, the staff participated in professional development on trauma-informed practices and reviewed the protocols that were developed as a part of our reopening plan. On Thursday, teachers participated in professional learning focused on the implementation of the new elementary English Language Arts, secondary Spanish, and secondary math programs. Teachers at the secondary level worked with consultants to adapt learning tasks for distance learning. These tasks will be used on the days that secondary students are participating from home in the A/B schedule or during full-distance learning.
Teachers and paraprofessionals will return on September 9th for three additional days for professional development on technology tools, organization of supplies and materials for distribution, and collaborative planning to ensure a smooth transition to the school year.
Operations and Resources Subcommittee
We've reviewed our PPE inventories after picking up the free supplies from the state and have placed additional orders for some items we were lacking. We also picked up a free supply of disinfectant from the state. Nurses are identifying additional needed items, such as covered, foot pedal trash cans for soiled PPE. Material safety data sheets for new cleaning supplies have been distributed to nurses. We are looking into UV lighting as a means of disinfecting materials and small spaces.
Last week, Smithfield had 8 new cases of COVID-19. This corresponds to a daily rate of 1.14 new cases per ~22,000 residents, or 5.3 per 100,000. The governor’s cutoff is 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. I will be monitoring this number as we approach the start of the school year. This data is available at: https://bit.ly/2PxCgDM.
The governor’s decision is expected on Monday. We will be ready for whatever scenario is chosen.
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent
and Members of the Return to School Committee