School to open in phases

Fri, 09/04/2020 - 11:15am
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With a backdrop of what Gov. Gina Raimondo called a “primarily good news” environment in Rhode Island in terms of coronavirus cases, the governor said all school districts in the state, except two, should be able to go back to full in-person learning by Sept. 14 “and that is what we expect you will do.”

Raimondo, however, almost immediately added a caveat at her briefing on Monday, Aug. 31, stating that most likely school districts will “ease into” in-person learning “to work out the kinks.”

The Block Island School, based on the recommendations of Supt. Mike Convery, Principal Kristine Monje and teachers, will do just that, noting, as Monje said, “there is anxiety on the part of the staff.”

Convery and Monje presented the plan to the School Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 1, which was approved 4-0 by the members of the committee. (Member Kara Stinnett did not attend the meeting.)

Convery described the beginning of school as a “gradual reopening” with students in grades kindergarten through grade eight starting in-person learning on Sept. 14, with high school students distance learning for the first week and coming back to school starting Sept. 21.

Convery said there are a total of 147 students enrolled in the school this year. Forty of those students are in grades nine through 12. Convery said his office has 2,000 facemasks, along with face shields, and hand sanitizers.

“We’re in good shape in terms of supplies,” said Convery.

Students will have their temperatures taken every day when they are dropped off at school, said Convery, and the staff will also be tested daily.

The school playground will be closed, at least for the beginning of the year, according to Convery, as well as some parts of the building, such as the weight room. Eating outside the building while the weather is still nice is a possibility, Convery said.

Convery said that people will be restricted from coming into the building during the school day and “we will limit the number of people who come in.”

“We have a playbook. We’ve gone through every scenario,” said Monje.

“What if we make a decision tonight and you get major pushback from the parents?” School Committee Chair Bill Padien asked.

Convery said, in that case, “parents still have a choice: distance learning or in school.”

Convery said there was a special Zoom meeting scheduled with parents, teachers, and Dr. Tom Warcup on Thursday, Sept. 3 to discuss issues and concerns.

Padien also asked what would happen if a student is an “anti-masker?”

“It’s very clear: wearing a mask is not a choice in the building or bus. You have to have a mask on. Anybody in the school building has to have to have a mask on,” said Convery. “If not, you will be sent home.”

Committee member Annie Hall and Padien both expressed some concern that the students were not all going back to in-person learning at the same time.

“There’s a lot of concern they are not going back at the same time. Our enrollment is so small that I’m hoping our kids can go back to school in school. Every kid should have the opportunity to be in school,” said Hall. “I know there is anxiety, we just have to live with it and follow all the safety procedures and protocol... Teenagers slumped over a computer is really bad.”

Hall added that the students know each other and have been seeing each other all summer “and we still, thank God, don’t have a case of Covid in a child right now and there is no case of Covid out here now as far as we know.”

Monje said new staff was also needed at the school. She said she was interviewing candidates for school nurse and a guidance counselor, but did not have any applicants for a third custodian, who is needed due to the new cleaning protocols.

Raimondo also announced last week that a new task force would be doing a walkthrough of all school buildings in the state prior to Sept. 14. School Committee member Jessica Willi asked if that walk-through had been scheduled, and as of Tuesday it had not, said Convery.