Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
This 14th edition of the weekly Return to School report is the first following the start of the school year. Here, we include information about the morning drop off process, dedicated testing for K-12 staff and students, and the virtual option rollout. Additional information about the virtual option programming specific to your child’s school are being disseminated by principals.
Morning drop-off procedures improved each day this week. In addition to having more parents drive their children to school and taking temperatures and collecting tickets, we discontinued our practice of allowing students to be dropped off up to 25 minutes prior to the start of the school day. In years past, students at LaPerche, for example, were able to play in the playground beginning at 8:20am. Because we cannot mix pods of students nor do we have the staff to supervise students in classrooms prior to the start of the teachers’ day, we now start the drop off process only 5 minutes before the official start time: 8:45am.
Bus ridership was also lower than expected due to parents dropping off their children on the first couple of school days. We encourage parents who live outside of the walk zone and are scheduled for bus pickup to utilize this service to alleviate the long car lines in the morning. Last, for those that continue to drive their children to school, remember that the school is a no-idle zone. If you arrive early, please turn off the ignition so that fumes don’t fill the classrooms. Vents and windows are open to allow for air exchange.
Dedicated Testing Sites for RI Schools
Rhode Island has dedicated testing for all public and nonpublic PreK-12 schools. This website gives an overview of when to get a test, what happens on the day of the test, and the locations of the K-12 testing sites: https://health.ri.gov/covid/testing/k-12/. Fidelity, right here in Smithfield, hosts one of these dedicated sites.
To schedule a test, parents or staff can call: (844) 857 - 1814 - 7 Days a Week: 7:30 AM - 9:30 PM. This service line is only for K-12 staff and students who have symptoms, have been identified as a close contact of a positive case, or are a classmate of a positive case.
A handbook from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) provides a clear direction to individuals regarding testing, quarantine, and return to school. A summary, provided as a Q&A, is below:
When is a COVID-19 test required?
A test is required for anyone having one or more of the following symptoms that cannot be explained by other factors, such as allergies:
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
New loss of taste
New loss of smell
Or for 2 or more of the following symptoms that cannot be explained by other factors, such as allergies:
Fever (temperature > 100.4°)
Muscle or body aches
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
What happens if a test is positive or negative?
If the PCR (non-rapid) test result is negative, the person can return to school when they have been fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and symptoms have improved (back to usual health). If the test result is positive, the person must isolate and can return to school when CDC/RIDOH symptom- based criteria for ending isolation have been met. The test-based strategy for ending isolation is not recommended. After a person is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a positive test, additional tests are not necessary or recommended and are strongly discouraged.
What are schools required to do when a student or staff member presents with symptoms indicating a probable case?
When a student or staff member at school presents with a symptom or set of symptoms meeting the CDC definition of a probable case of COVID-19, the school must report the probable case via the Probable Reporting Portal, which will help RIDOH facilitate COVID-19 testing. Once a positive case is verified, the RIDOH initiates a case investigation process.
Will parents be notified about positive cases?
Once a positive case is confirmed, RIDOH will contact the school and superintendent on the identity of the case and the close contacts, what those individuals need to do before returning to school, and communications to push out to the full school community. One is for use with all students, staff, and families in the school. The second set is for use with students who are in the same learning pod as the positive case. Students who are in the same learning pod will be offered the opportunity to be tested even if they are not identified as close contacts.
Virtual Option Rollout
The VO registration, which began on August 12th - over a month ago - included this description:
The virtual option will be employed while the district is in full or partial return. This option is not identical to Smithfield's Distance Learning (DL) program. In DL, Smithfield will employ a synchronous teaching program where students have live lessons at specific times of the day. In VO, Smithfield will employ an asynchronous teaching program where students collect lesson materials (the topic, materials, and assignments) on Google Classroom and work independently, handing in assignments as requested. Teachers will check in with their VO students virtually at least once per week. If a VO student is assigned to an intervention service or has an IEP, they will have specific times to meet virtually with an interventionist, special educator, or service provider.
Remember that while some students are learning from home, teachers have a full schedule of classes during the day. Emails sent to teachers from VO students or their parents will be answered within 3 days.
Since that time, we have been working with our teachers' union to develop MOAs about filming lessons so that expectations and safeguards are in place for our teachers. We are also working on innovative practices and tools to enable teachers to address their VO students efficiently and effectively. Strategies will be rolled out throughout the year.
We wish we could have pulled aside teachers to exclusively teach VO students but having 4 elementary schools made this a challenge. Students in the VO weren't distributed throughout the town in a way that would enable us to pull a teacher from a school without leaving behind too many in-person students for the teachers left behind or having to transport students from one part of town to another to balance classes - something that was prohibitive, given the restrictions on busing.
We were waiting upon the state’s decision on our state aid amount to reassess our budget and make additional hirings to support VO students. We recently learned that it may not be until after Thanksgiving that legislators approve a state budget. Clearly, these important hirings cannot wait another 2 months. I will be using some CRF funding and funds from the local budget, with School Committee approval, to begin hiring temporary staff who can work with teachers to help provide live, virtual lessons to our VO students. We will start with our youngest students then will develop and employ a variety of approaches for older students before considering additional staff. Thus, the programming will evolve over time. Our district and school administrators are committed to spending time in schools and monitoring virtual learning to support our teachers as they attempt to do something that has never been done before.
Remember that both breakfast and lunch are free to ALL students at this time. Meals for distance learning or virtual option students or for students not in school can be picked up at: Smithfield High School Door #2 11 am -12 pm Monday-Friday. Weekend meals will be distributed on Friday. Students who will be in a hybrid model may pick up a meal as they leave school if they will be at home the next day
Last week, Smithfield had 11 new cases of COVID-19. This corresponds to a daily rate of 1.6 new cases per ~22,000 residents, or 7.2 per 100,000. The governor’s original cutoff was 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. This week, we learned that the Village at Waterman Lake had a surge of new cases so I expect this number to rise before I report to you again. In our schools, we have small numbers of students who have been tested and had negative tests and others who are awaiting results. We appreciate the responsibility our families have demonstrated to screen students and keep children who are not feeling well at home. If a case directly affects our schools, causing some to have to quarantine, all members of our school community will be notified.
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent