Dear North Smithfield Families,
I want to follow up on my presentation from Tuesday’s School Committee Meeting. https://youtu.be/Aq1Xtc-H2dE with the following information and clarifications.
The majority of our students who have been identified as close contacts and have had to quarantine are from riding the bus and not from within the classroom.
I and other superintendents across Rhode Island are advocating the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) to revise its current bus quarantine rules to model those of Massachusetts. Currently, the RI rules state that close contacts of a positive student include the student sharing a seat along with all unvaccinated students sitting two seats forward, two seats behind, and the five seats on the other side of the aisle. That is a lot of students. Whereas the Massachusetts policy is “individuals who are masked on buses when windows are open are exempt from testing and quarantine response protocols.”
We have been assured that RIDOH is reviewing its protocol.
In the meantime, we are recommending that if your child is unvaccinated, and you do not want him or her to be caught up in a bus-related quarantine, and have the means to take your child directly to and/or from school, avoid riding the bus at least until the RIDOH changes the close contact regulations.
To help with the potential increase in drop-off and pick-up traffic, especially at NSES, we will be advertising for crossing guards to assist. The going rate for a crossing guard is $15 per half hour. We will need at least 4 crossing guards at NSES for a ½ hour during morning drop off and a ½ hour during afternoon pickup. The posting and application can be found at: https://www.schoolspring.com/job.cfm?jid=3682612.
We have been looking at ridership numbers on the buses for the AM and PM runs for both NSES and NSMS/NSHS. We are trying to keep the numbers balanced at 2 students, or fewer, per seat. With our seven 77-seat buses, that means 52 students to maintain 2 students per seat. Our six 71-seat buses can accommodate 46 students and maintain 2 students per seat.
All of our buses are within, or below, the 2 students per seat range, except MS/HS Bus #5 and Bus #11 which may have to use a few seats for three students. We may have to make some route adjustments to better distribute the loads.
Statewide, after two to three weeks of school this year, the totals of COVID positive students are approximately equal to the total number of positive students after the first two to three months of school last year.
Students who went home ill and who had to wait for a negative PCR test before returning to school, along with students who were identified as close contacts and had to isolate at home, were all unvaccinated.
Also, of our positive cases, many were siblings from unvaccinated households who contracted COVID from a family member within the home. Some of these students even came to school when feeling ill.
School nurses and quarantine decisions
The RIDOH quarantine and testing protocols we must follow are discussed and debated at the weekly meetings between RIDOH, superintendents, and school nurses. Some argue they are too strict, not strict enough, simple and direct, or contradictory. There are also many “grey areas.”
Our nurses have been trying to navigate this grey area between students who come to school ill with COVID-like symptoms and how the protocols direct their response vs. what may be another reason a student is feeling ill.
While we urge parents not to send sick children to school in the first place, some do. Please understand our nurses do not automatically send a student home because they exhibit a COVID-like symptom.
We have children who don’t feel well because they did not have a good night’s sleep. We have children who do not feel well because they didn’t have breakfast. We have children that may have a headache due to lack of sleep, other stresses, or anxiety. In many cases such as these, our nurses give them water, food, a quiet place to lie down and close their eyes or administer their prescribed medication. They often feel better and return to class.
We also have children who have ongoing or repeating symptoms, such as a sinus condition or allergies, that appear COVID-like. In these cases, our nurses will take a physician’s note to place in their records and factor this information into testing or quarantine decisions.
In summary, North Smithfield School nurses will take into consideration the nature of a student’s symptoms and other non-COVID-related factors.
Finally, when and where there is a positive case, our nurses spend a lot of time contact tracing in accordance with established protocols. This often happens well into the evenings and across the weekends. Because the DOH is so behind notifying families of close contacts, our nurses and administration will call families during the day and email families, and notify the bus company after hours and late into the evening or over the weekend.
We understand people’s frustration, but the unfortunate reality is that too many times our nurses have been yelled at, sworn at, or hung up on when trying to communicate with the student’s home. Please let them do their jobs. They are not responsible for RIDOH contact or testing delays. They have protocols to follow and sometimes have to be the bearers of bad news.
Quarantining of unvaccinated students after domestic travel
Offering a distance learning model worked in conjunction with Hybrid instruction and we certainly do not want to return to that unless we have to.
Even though we cannot currently offer distance learning to the degree that some are requesting, we will expand some virtual supports and resources for students who must quarantine.
Our focus has to be on keeping students in the classroom which is achievable with everyone’s help by increasing vaccinations and limiting quarantine situations.
Limiting Quarantines and keeping students in school
We want to keep all students in the classroom, playing sports, participating in clubs and activities, and going on field trips with their classmates and friends.
The main way to achieve this and reduce the numbers of students who must quarantine is to:
Since vaccines are not available yet for the 12 and under, and the rates of positive cases and quarantines are the highest at NSES, we will be phasing in adjustments to NSES to hopefully limit the number of close contacts. These changes may include further adjusting classroom organization and seating, limiting and focusing student small group activities, staggering snack time, and reassessing lunches.
I remain confident that as a school department and a community we will find the balance between quarantines for the unvaccinated, keeping our staff and students safe and in the classroom as well as keeping our schools open.
Michael St. Jean, Superintendent.
One final notice….NEW SMS Text Messaging - We are adding text messaging to our notification system in addition to our current voice messaging and email announcements.
Text messages will only be used for emergency notifications, cancelations, or other time-sensitive announcements.
A text message invitation from North Smithfield Public Schools and/or School Messenger is scheduled to go out Wednesday at 6pm with these simple instructions (Type the word YES to 67587) in order to opt-in to receiving text notifications from NSPS.
Michael St. Jean,