Dear North Smithfield Families and Staff,
During the Tuesday, August 18th, School Committee Meeting (https://youtu.be/xDKkf7xOc3Y), I made a number of recommendations regarding school reopening. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate and expand upon my recommendations.
School Reopening Recommendations
Districts in the state have begun to announce a return to school under full Distance Learning as well as a variety of other models. At this time, we firmly believe that some in-person learning is preferable to none. At Tuesday’s School Committee Meeting, I recommended to the North Smithfield Schools that we conduct a “soft” reopening under the Hybrid Model for all students in PK-12.
With an anticipated 20% of our students choosing a full Distance Learning option and with 40% of our students in person between Tuesday - Friday we can:
Under a full reopening model, at this time, we cannot guarantee that everyone who needs a seat on the bus will have a seat. Under a full reopening model, we cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing in classrooms, students will sit in rows with masks on, facing forward, with limited movement and conversation.
We want the schools to be open and social, less restrictive and prison-like which will be difficult to achieve under a full reopening model.
We will need the first few weeks to get everyone used to new processes and routines and to tune and refine. After a few weeks, we will assess the conditions in the schools, community, and the state, and ideally move towards a fuller opening, remain on hybrid, or shift towards Distance Learning.
I understand the need to reopen fully and, virus permitting, that is definitely our goal, especially for our elementary students and students with special needs.
Staffing Concerns and Early Student Dismissal
At the School Committee Meeting, I expressed concerns about staffing due to the Department of Health requirements for all employers in all industries to permit employees to stay home if they are sick. Across the state, superintendents are anticipating that with general illnesses, staff going in and out of quarantine, and the general lack of substitute teachers, we will have difficulty keeping our classrooms fully staffed.
North Smithfield has an option that many schools do not have. We have one of the longest school days among public schools in the state. Our school day is closer in length to private, parochial, and some charter schools.
The school day will be reduced for students by 45 minutes. This move will allow our teachers to provide class coverage during the day to offset the anticipated lack of substitute teacher availability and create time at the end of the day to better support the mix of student in-person and Distance Learning needs.
I do understand the disruption in family schedules that reducing the student school day by 45 minutes will create for some. We have not committed to this solution but are strongly considering it. We will know more when the Governor makes her school reopening announcement on August 31st.
Whether families choose full Distance Learning, or Distance Learning as part of the Hybrid Model, or Distance Learning is necessitated due to quarantine, it will look different than it did last year. Our Distance Learning delivery will be:
A separate email/form will be going out allowing parents who indicated they were interested in a Distance Learning option to reconsider as well as families who did not sign up for Distance Learning to add their student’s names.
In addition to general summer cleaning and maintenance, our Facilities Department is preparing for school reopening.
Of note, the Rhode Island Departments of Education and Department of Health recommended at the beginning of the summer that schools install plexiglass student partitions in classrooms. Our focus instead was to tune, service, and upgrade our HVAC system controls and unit ventilators. Last week, new guidance to districts and schools advised not to spend money on plexiglas partitions and instead improve school and classroom ventilation. North Smithfield again was ahead of the game.
Here is a brief list of some of our projects and purchases:
Our teachers and staff desperately want to reopen and welcome all students back, but given budgetary constraints, restrictions in busing and gatherings, taking extra health and safety precautions, accommodating the mix of in-person and Distance Learning needs, everything this year will be a balancing act like we have never seen before.
Michael St. Jean,
Michael St. Jean,