Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
Each week, we will be providing a Return to School Committee Report. This 12th edition of the weekly report includes information about the governor’s decision, walkthroughs of school facilities, plans for testing and ongoing support, and updates from the three Return to School sub-committees.
The Governor’s Decision
All but two RI school districts have been given the green light to reopen for full, in-person learning on September 14th. Governor Raimondo’s announcement wasn’t a surprise but was somewhat confusing. She stated that the expectation is that all students will be in school by Tuesday, October 13th, other than those whose parents opted them out. However, early in the planning process, the state defined “full, in-person learning” as 100% of elementary students in school buildings and at least 50% of secondary students in school at any one time. Smithfield’s plan provides for students in grades PK-6 to be taught in school buildings every day and students in grades 7-12 to be taught in school buildings every other day with an asynchronous virtual learning day on opposite days. The question about whether we can continue this hybrid model after October 13th has not been answered, despite having attended a Commissioner meeting and meeting with the Education Operations Center LEA Team on Thursday. The bottom line, however, is that we do not have the resources for the daily transport of all secondary students who need bus transportation and don’t anticipate this to change by October 13th.
The governor and commissioner are also allowing districts to stagger the entrance of various grades in order to get accustomed to procedures. The first day of school for each grade level in Smithfield is provided below:
Grade K - September 17th
Grades 1-6 - September 14th
Grades 9-12 with last names beginning with A-K - September 14th
Grades 7-12, last names beginning with L-Z - September 15th
Grades 7-8, last names beginning with A-K - September 16th
A few weeks ago we adjusted the school calendar to push back the start of school to September 14th and provide 3 training days to teachers on September 9, 10, and 11. We had not known that the state had eliminated some flex days within the school calendar when they instituted Sept. 9th, 10th and 11th as teacher training days. At the School Committee meeting on September 8th, we will be adjusting our calendar yet again to eliminate 2 flex days - September 21 and April 12th. We will keep the flex day on December 14th because that day is a scheduled parent/teacher conference day. This will not result in no change to the last day of school.
School Facility Walkthroughs
As announced by the Governor, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Department of Business Regulations (DBR) coordinated walkthroughs of all public schools in support of re-opening. Smithfield’s visits took place on Tuesday and utilized a checklist that aligns with COVID-19 Facilities and Physical Plant Guidance. The format for the walkthroughs included observations made about the facility readiness, along with a series of interview questions with district and building administrators. The walkthroughs concluded with a copy of the checklist made available to the district to assist with further planning. Information from the walkthroughs of all Rhode Island schools will be shared with RIDE and RIDOH to assist in identifying additional supports for schools throughout the state.
Feedback from these walkthroughs was generally positive with specific recommendations including relocating the GMS isolation room and continuing to monitor the performance of our hvac system. In our schools, indoor air quality is improved through an exchange of outdoor air, hvac filters and portable hepa filters utilized in interior rooms and nurses’ offices. The addition of fans to circulate air and propel air from the outside to the inside will not only increase air exchange but will also make the classroom more comfortable.
State Plans for Testing, Contact Tracing, and Ongoing Support
An interagency Education Operations Center (EdOC) has been established that brings together expertise from a range of state agencies to support schools during reopening. This support may take on a variety of forms, including assistance with transportation plans, case investigation and contact tracing, instructional support, operating guidance, and other planning and logistics support.
When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the state’s team of 50 contact tracers exclusively dedicated to case investigation at schools will begin contract tracing immediately. Anyone who tests positive will receive a call from a contact tracer who will ask questions about who they’ve been in close contact with over the past two weeks. In addition, the contact tracer will connect directly with the school. Smithfield has designated its nurses and principals to assist the R.I. Department of Health in their investigations. Since the contact tracer will want to know who the student sits next to on the bus, in class and at lunch, we are requiring that Durham, our bus company, and our teachers maintain seating charts for all buses and classrooms. Close contacts will be ordered by these contact tracers to quarantine for 14 days. Students ordered to quarantine will have access to distance learning during that time period, will be required to get tested and will be monitored for symptoms. The return to school will follow state guidance and will include an attestation form to be submitted upon return.
Schools will have a dedicated testing system that will have a daily capacity for 4,000 PCR tests, which are more accurate results delivered within 48 hours, and 1,200 rapid tests that provide results within hours. Students or teachers experiencing symptoms will be able to schedule an appointment through a K-12 testing hotline. One of these dedicated centers will be right here in Smithfield.
The Department of Education has asked that districts collect permission to test forms and insurance information from families prior to September 25th, however, the form provided (see link) has data being submitted directly to RIDE and makes districts unable to track who has submitted the information and who has not. Additionally, in her Monday briefing, Governor Raimondo stated, “We decided, after an incredible amount of thought, that we didn’t want to overly burden the schools or the school nurses, particularly at the get go.The state is handling all of the testing. Municipalities do not have to worry about it.” Considering this, the collection of these forms appears unnecessary. We’ve put in a request for further guidance on this requirement. More information will be forthcoming.
Update from the Subcommittees
Leadership and Communications Subcommittee
We are shifting communication from the district to individual schools, which will help families know the specifics relating to their child’s school environment. As new information comes forward from state agencies, we ensure that relevant information is then distributed to members of our school community. Additionally, the Return to School plan, available on our website, is updated with new information. Just this week, the return to school attestation form, required to be submitted by staff and students who return to school after an absence, was added to the document.
Instructional Core and Social-Emotional Learning Subcommittee
Confirmation emails have been sent to families of students registered for the virtual option. These students will receive Chromebooks, books, textbooks, materials, and school supplies prior to the start of school. Elementary distribution for these materials to virtual option students is scheduled for September 10th. Gallagher Middle School and Smithfield High School will be distributing materials on September 11th. Parents will receive more specific information from your school principal in the upcoming days.
Our student screening procedure is described in our Reopening Plan on page 46. Prior to coming to school each day, families must complete a paper ticket indicating that students are not experiencing symptoms. The ticket can be shown to bus drivers upon boarding buses and will be collected at the doors prior to entering school. Five tickets have been mailed to each family attending school in person and should arrive by early next week. Additional tickets will be distributed to students during the first week of school.
Information regarding kindergarten screening has been sent to families this week. Kindergarten students will be screened on September 14th, 15th, and 16th to gather information on math and reading readiness skills and the data is then used to create class lists. Kindergarten families will be notified of their child's teacher on September 16th and will report to school for their first official day on September 17th.
Operations and Resources Subcommittee
This subcommittee continues to assess the district’s supply of resources necessary for our safe reopening. The district is now registered on the RIDE Master Price Agreement (MPA) for PPE and all current PPE supplies have been distributed to the schools. The Athletic Director is looking into ultraviolet lighting to disinfect athletic and physical education supplies. We continued to meet with Chartwells to review food service processes with building principals. We also purchased My School Apps software for online processing of free and reduced lunch applications to make it easier for families to access school breakfast and lunch. We learned this week that the summer food service program, which provides free meals to children regardless of free and reduced price status, may be extended to December 31st, ensuring that we are able to provide meals to all our students. We will provide notifications once we learn if we qualify for this extension.
Last week, Smithfield had 7 new cases of COVID-19. This corresponds to a daily rate of 1 new case per ~22,000 residents, or 4.5 per 100,000. The governor’s cutoff is 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. As you know, Providence and Central Falls did not make this cutoff and will not be returning to school in full, in-person on September 14th. I will be monitoring this number throughout the beginning months of the school year. This data is available at: https://bit.ly/2PxCgDM.
We are ready to welcome our students back to school!
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent and Members of the Return to School Committee