An Update from Commissioner Infante-Green
Today, Governor Raimondo gave the entire state a “green light” to a full in-person school reopening on September 14, with two important exceptions – Central Falls and Providence. Her decision is based on the five metrics we laid out earlier this summer:
- Statewide Data: The Governor presented the latest public health data, which demonstrate that Rhode Island’s overall health situation regarding COVID meets all of RIDOH’s key metrics and that the state trend lines are moving in the right direction.
- Municipal Data: This is the challenge for Central Falls and Providence. Unfortunately, the rates in these two cities remain above the 100 cases per 100,000 residents rate that RIDOH outlined earlier this summer. But for the rest of the state, fortunately, the rates remain below this threshold.
- Testing Readiness: We have made tremendous progress in this area. The Governor announced that we are creating what will essentially be a separate K-12 testing system, with more than a dozen dedicated swab sites for students and teachers to get tested. And we have 10 rapid machines to test students or teachers who develop symptoms during the school day and need immediate results.
- Supply Readiness. We are in very good shape in this area as well. In addition to what local education agencies (LEAs) are procuring, the state has provided back-up supplies to schools across the state, including nearly 3,000 thermometers, 600,000 masks, 5,000 gowns, and 15,000 containers of disinfectant. And our team at the Education Operations Center will support LEAs with any supply shortages as the year goes on.
- Operational Readiness: The RIDE and RIDOH teams have worked hard with every school district, charter, and state-run school to ensure they have a plan that meets the goals laid out for readiness to address the realities of the virus. Those plans include necessary health precautions like social distancing and the wearing of masks; a point person for COVID testing and contact tracing; and a plan to support students and staff if they become sick.
We are working closely with school leaders in Central Falls and Providence to ensure they start school successfully. The health situation means that these two districts have to start with fewer students in the classroom (the partial in-person scenario), but we are working to ensure that all their students have the technology and supports they need to succeed.
Even though the light is green for the rest of the state, our districts, charters, and state-run schools should still look both ways before they proceed. That is why we will use the first month of schools to ease in to a full reopening, as long as all students are learning as of September 14. There are a lot of new protocols to follow for students and teachers, including, for example, new hallway, lunch, bathroom, and drop-off/pick-up procedures. There is a lot to learn, so, if LEA leaders need time to stagger reopening over the first four weeks, that’s alright.
For example, some may choose to bring back one or two grades per school to start, keeping other grades in distance learning and returning them incrementally. How LEAs choose to execute the phasing in is up to them. We are prepared to be patient and flexible, but with the goal that all the districts except Central Falls and Providence will have all students who want to return in person back in their classrooms by October 13.
Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in the story of how the Rhode Island education community responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, we are putting public health and safety first, but insisting on doing all we can to make sure our students have a productive year in school. There is no other option.