Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 07-30-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | JULY 30-AUGUST 5, 2020 NO. SMITHFIELD 3 NORTH SMITHFIELD – Like in most communities around the state, North Smithfield's school reopening plan is generating more questions than answers, with parents taking to social media to raise concerns about the plan last week. Last Thursday, July 23, Supt. Michael St. Jean attempted to answer those questions during a virtual com- munity forum. Reading through questions submitted via email and during the forum itself, St. Jean addressed everything from mask- wearing to bus routes, with many of the answers remaining uncertain at this time. One of the biggest questions from parents, he said, was whether students would have the option to continue full-time distance learn- ing in the fall. As of Thursday, he said, the Rhode Island Department of Education had given its written consent for the district's "Virtual Academy," an online option that would allow students to opt into full distance learning. "The distance learning that we run this current year is not going to be the same distance learning that we ran last year," he said. "It will be dif- ferent, it will be improved." St. Jean said this year's distance learning would have more structure, but stopped short of promising stu- dents could virtually opt into class- room experiences taking place in the schools. That situa- tion, he said, could have legal complica- tions around student privacy concerns that were still being worked out. In a survey of about 700 student families, he said, 33 percent said they would choose dis- tancing learning if given the choice this year. The number of parents who choose to take advantage of distance learn- ing could have a serious impact on what the plan looks like for those who remain. Earlier this month, the North Smithfield Public Schools submitted three potential plans for school reopening to RIDE. All three plans include a combination of dis- tance and in-person learning, with Monday reserved as a distance learn- ing day throughout the district. In the first plan, all students would attend class in person Tuesday through Friday. That plan, said St. Jean, presents serious issues around social distancing, with students unable to fully distance in the class- rooms. In the second plan, students in grades pre-K through 4, along with special needs students, would return to school full-time Tuesday through Friday. Students in grades 6 through 12 would be on a hybrid schedule that would include two days in the classroom and three days at home each week, with the days determined by the student's last name. The dis- trict had not yet determined which schedule grade 5 would follow. In the third plan, all students would be on a hybrid schedule with two days in the classroom each week. "That's not ideal, because we get it. Parents need to go to work, they need to arrange care," said St. Jean. Depending on how many families take advantage of full-time distance learning, he said, those plans could allow for different levels of distancing in the classrooms. RIDE had origi- nally urged six feet between desks but later dropped that recommen- dation to three feet, a change that raised concerns among some parents. If enough families took advantage of distance learning, he said, the dis- trict might be able to bring back the remaining students on Mondays. "I can't commit to anything just yet. We still have to go through with our staff and our team," he said. RIDE has indicated it plans to make a final decision on what type of reopening model schools should pur- sue by Aug. 17. St. Jean agreed with parent comments that that date was too late for both parents and schools. "We need to have a line in the sand, and we need to know how schools are going to open and what schools are going to look like," he said. "We need to set things up. Our parents need to make arrangements." Parents also raised concerns about masks. While the district had previ- ously indicated it will not enforce mask wearing among students, St. Jean urged parents to follow the rec- ommendation to have their children wear masks, especially when moving about the hallways or buses. He also answered questions on whether the schools would be run- ning fans and air conditioners or shutting them off for fear they could increase the transmission risk of COVID-19. The middle and high schools, he said, are currently under- going air flow analyses to determine the risk, while North Smithfield Elementary School is in the midst of a complete overhaul of its HVAC system. "I don't know that answer, but we're not going to be running and doing something that's not part of the CDC and the Department of Health (recommendations)," he said. Aleksandra Norton, a local par- ent, raised the possibility of order- ing instant COVID-19 test strips to test students as they entered school each morning. Those strips, she said, could have a higher possibility of detecting the disease than symptom screening, since many children can remain asymptomatic. St. Jean said he would relay the idea to the district's nurses and said superintendents are pushing the gov- ernor's office and the Rhode Island Department of Health to prioritize schools for COVID-19 testing. With residents currently reporting wait- times of a week or longer for lab test results, St. Jean said superintendents want the state to commit to a two- day turnaround for testing for staff, students and families. "With the question of quarantine, we need to know right away if some- body is positive or somebody is at- North Smithfield parents raise concerns about reopening plan By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com ST. JEAN See SCHOOLS, Page 9 Free COVID Tests All Immigration Statuses. All Ages. (401) 767-4100 THINK SPRING! Have your vehicle checked before Summer Travel 4 WHEEL ALIGNMENT Starting at $ 89.95 RI State Inspection $55 WE'RE OPEN FOR ALL YOUR SERVICE NEEDS 36 BLACKSTONE STREET WOONSOCKET 401-766-3270 WWW.TERRYAUTOLTD.COM Gil & Meika WE BUY CARS NOW CARRYING… Falken Tires! FREE 2 Year Road Hazard Warranty. Pass/LT AC SERvICE Walid Saber, MD FACC, FSCAL, RPVI Chief of Cardiology - Landmark Clinical Assistant Professor Warren Alpert Medical School Ibrahim Elgabry, MD FACC Director of Cardiac Rehab - Landmark Clinical Assistant Professor Warren Alpert Medical School World Class Care . . . 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