Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
This 16th edition of the weekly Return to School report includes an update on COVID cases affecting our schools, how we are addressing COVID-19 through air circulation, siblings of quarantined students, transportation updates, and reminders about testing and attestation forms.
A Class in Quarantine
Each week I will report on the COVID cases affecting our school community. Quite a few Smithfield students have been tested and thus far, two students have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the school year - the SHS student reported last week and an elementary student this week. When we work with the RIDOH for contact tracing, the epidemiologist considers who has been in close contact (less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes). In the younger grades, students at recess may be in contact with a number of other students - not just the students sitting in close proximity in the classroom. As a result, while the SHS case resulted in four students being quarantined, the entire classroom of elementary students were put into quarantine for two weeks. These students and their families have been notified and will not return to school until after the defined period. Another confirmed case is a contracted service provider who had no contact with other students or staff. Additionally, last night we were informed of an educator at SHS testing positive, resulting in 2 students and 9 staff members being quarantined. There will be cases throughout the year. Our success will be measured by the ability to limit the spread once a case is identified.
Addressing COVID-19 Through Air Circulation
Airborne viruses, including the coronavirus, can spread from one person to another in tiny droplets that we release as we breathe. These tiny droplets, or aerosols, have less virus in them than larger droplets caused by sneezing and coughing, so a person would need to inhale large quantities of them to get sick. However, aerosols can accumulate over time in indoor spaces if no effort is made to properly ventilate or filter the air.
We have been employing a 2-fold strategy for increasing the ventilation of our classrooms to reduce the airborne spread of COVID-19. Our HVAC systems, although old, are well maintained and we use the highest grade filter recommended for those particular units. Although not adequate on their own, keeping windows and doors open and employing fans increases the air exchange sufficiently. We have contracted with an engineering firm to inspect and provide recommendations regarding our HVAC and are investigating stand-alone HEPA filtration systems to purchase to augment the HVAC so that the combination of filtration and ventilation achieves the desired result once the cold weather sets in and we no longer can rely on open windows and doors. Additionally, we have purchased carbon dioxide meters to test the resulting air quality. The effectiveness of the room’s ventilation can be measured using a formula that considers the classroom dimensions and number of students and teachers in the room to determine an expected level of carbon dioxide for the desired number of air exchanges to compare with the measured level of carbon dioxide.
Siblings of Quarantined Students
If a child is sent to the nurse and is presenting symptoms that meet the criteria of a probable case, the school nurse is required to enter the child’s information and presenting symptoms into the RI Department of Health Portal and parents will be provided information to schedule a test. While waiting for test results, the child must isolate at home. Household contacts (roommates are considered household contacts) must quarantine pending the symptomatic person’s COVID-19 test result, therefore, parents must not send a sibling into school and will be called to come and pick them up if they are sent to school. The school requires both the rapid and the non rapid test results prior to a student returning to school. We are asking that all parents email these results to the school nurse. If feasible, it is ideal for each close contact to quarantine in a location separate from the symptomatic person and from other close contacts.
We are finding that some students whose parents have opted out of bus transportation are waiting at bus stops. The bus company creates seating charts that ensure that we are able to identify students needing to be quarantined, if necessary. If parents wish to add their students to the bus lists, this should be done through an email to Karen Boscio, email@example.com. The change will depend upon the availability of bus seats and will be done in as timely a manner as possible.
Virtual Option Responsibilities and Support
Parents of students, especially young students, in the virtual option have a challenging responsibility to provide the environment and guidance for learning at home. Students may race through posted lessons without the care required to cement the learning into place. Students may also use any extra time in unproductive ways. We are seeing a number of unsupervised students around town during the school day. Parents are reminded that students who are not enrolled in in-school learning should not be on school property during the school day and every effort should be made to ensure safety and supervision. Augmenting the work provided by your child’s teacher can be done through the support of our town libraries who have a variety of print and video resources to lend for free.
Over the next few weeks we will be introducing elementary students to tutors who will schedule virtual meets to provide direct instruction in math and ELA. Parents will continue to get learning plans from their child’s teacher for other subjects and activities.
Attestation Forms - After an illness, all staff and students are expected to submit an after-illness attestation form. These forms are available online through the RIDOH website (see link) or through our COVID webpage (see red link on the district website).
Dedicated Testing Centers - See this website - https://health.ri.gov/covid/testing/k-12/ for 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. To schedule a test, parents or staff can call: (844) 857 - 1814 - 7 Days a Week: 7:30 AM - 9:30 PM.
Last week, Smithfield had 12 new cases of COVID-19. This corresponds to a daily rate of 1.7 new cases per ~22,000 residents, or 7.9 per 100,000. The governor’s original cutoff was 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. Thanks to the attention and care of every member of our community, this value is relatively low.
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent