School readies for return to in-person learning

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 6:00pm

It’s back to school time for students on Block Island after several weeks of distance learning for most. Superintendent Mike Convery announced at the School Committee’s meeting on Dec. 21 that a limited in-person group would resume classes on January 4, with grades Kindergarten through seven starting back in person on Jan. 7, and grades eight through 12 on Jan. 14.

The return to school will be bolstered by the availability of Covid testing for all students, staff, and teachers on a weekly basis. The test will be of the rapid response variety, with those taking it performing “self -swabbing” and results will be available in 15 minutes. There are plans for putting together an instructional video for younger students on how to self-administer the test.

“The Governor wants as many students back in school by Jan. 15,” as possible said Convery, adding that for high school students especially, the Jan. 14 date allows for two weeks after the holidays. The plan has been reviewed by the Medical Center, and Convery said: “Dr. Warcup said this plan sounds reasonable.”

There will also be a return to winter sports, specifically basketball. Convery said the season will be much shorter, with varsity games running from February through March. There will be no home games for varsity, and no fans allowed at any games. The Junior Varsity teams though, may have some home games scheduled starting in mid-January.

“There will be a season, which will be great for the kids,” said Convery.

Close Up has been cancelled for this school year, potentially leaving parents in a lurch for non-refundable deposits of $400 per student. Close Up is a program in which high school students spend a week in Washington D.C. exploring government, and Block Island has been participating for at least 20 years. It was once an annual trip, but now the island students go every other year.

Convery said that the matter of reimbursements for the normally non-refundable deposits is now in the office of the Attorney General. “It was Close Up that cancelled,” emphasized Convery, a fact that should “give us a leg to stand on.” In the meantime, he recommended the school reimburse parents, in the amount of $6,450 for their paid deposits. Other money advanced by the school for the program will be rolled over to future years.

“I think that’s the right move,” said School Committee Chair Jess Willi. The $6,450 will come out of the school’s operating budget, and the expenditure was approved by the committee.

The $6,450 expense has already been reflected in the school’s financial report, which to-date, is showing a $10,400 deficit. At the beginning of the meeting, members of the Town Council, Town Finance Director Amy Land, and Town Manager Maryanne Crawford had joined the committee for a “pre-budget” meeting.

Second Warden Sven Risom asked if the $10,400 deficit was what was forecasted for the entire school year, or if it would increase.

Convery said he was “not sure tonight. This time last year the deficit was $17,000.” Added expenses were for increased custodial services and cleaning supplies.

Later in the meeting School Finance Director Melanie Reeves added that electricity was up, most likely due to the 30 new air purifiers and fans throughout the building.

Crawford asked if the school had applied for special grants related to Covid, and Convery said: “We’re floating five separate relief packages.” Those included funds for the air purifiers, and funds for substitutes, although of the $9,000 allocated to the Block Island School for substitutes, only about $900 has been spent. That, he said was because the school has such a small pool of available substitutes.

Reeves explained that the substitute grant was for teachers who were out sick or quarantining due to Covid. As for the balance of the grant: “We can only ask for what we spent.”

The School Committee will have its first budget meeting for the next fiscal year on Jan. 4, and its next regular meeting on Jan. 19.