COVID-19 & School » Reopening of Schools update 7.15.2020

Reopening of Schools update 7.15.2020

Good afternoon Scituate School Community,

I hope this message finds you well and enjoying some time with family and friends this summer.

I want to update you on where we are in our plan for reopening and provide you with some information that will help you with planning for the opening of school on August 31, 2020.  

First, our plan is complete and submitted to RIDE for feedback.  That feedback is due back to Scituate no later than July 31st.  As soon as that feedback is received and the task force makes whatever changes required, we will post the full plan on our website.  In the meantime, there is important information that we can share now that will assist you in planning for the re-opening of school on August 31st.

A little bit about the process.   The Scituate Reopening Task Force consists of about 30 people.  Members worked diligently to create the plan.  The work was and will continue to be complex, time consuming, and most importantly critical to a safe reopening of school for students and staff.  That is the number one priority.  Since Governor Raimondo's announcement that we were returning to full-in person school on August 31st, many hours of work were devoted to the Scituate Reopening Plan by committee members, including, but not limited to, time in subcommittees, independent and collaborative work, along with meetings with the full task force.  Members sacrificed vacations, family time, and other summer activities to ensure a comprehensive plan.  The plan required creating a "new normal" for school from before student arrival right through dismissal.  We are grateful to each and every one who contributed to the process.  The Scituate School Department is grateful to each committee member for their dedication and commitment.

The three scenarios planned for are those required by the RI Department of Education.  They are full in-person instructional scenario, a partial in-person scenario and full distance learning. The task force planned for those scenarios for each of the three levels in all four buildings.  We ask that you, as well, consider all opening scenarios as you plan for back to school this year.

The task force is divided into four different committees which were created based on the statewide reopening guidelines we sent you in last week’s message: Health and Safety, Instruction, Social-Emotional Learning, and Reopening Operations. Within each of those categories, strict requirements set forth by the RI Department of Health had to be addressed through assurances and evidence, indicating details around how Scituate would address the measures.  The evidence required very specific responses in each category and the assurances, although not required to be submitted with the plan must be available if either the RI Department of Education or Department of Health requires them.  Examples of assurances range from a commitment to having cleaning supplies to communication protocols. 

There are many issues to consider when planning to reopen during a pandemic.  Transportation is a big issue for us and for most school districts statewide. We have a limited number of buses, drivers and monitors.  The guidelines we have seen from the CDC dictate that buses need to have one student per assigned seat, facing forward (with the exception of siblings who can sit together), utilizing every other seat, every other row, depending on the scenario at the time. The guidelines also recommend additional bus monitors on each bus to help maintain the social distancing rules. If this remains true, we will be grappling with how to transport our students back and forth to school and how to appropriately staff our buses with additional drivers and monitors.  To mitigate that situation, in a survey that went out to parents earlier, we asked if families were willing to transport their children to and from school.  We had a very positive result in the number willing to do that.  While I understand that not all families are able to volunteer to do that, I want to thank those who will.  It is a tremendous help. To help us gather more specific information about transportation and to help us identify those families willing to transport, a survey will be distributed to all families within the next few days.  We are asking that all families fill out the survey.  The "Opt In" question is there, as well as other questions around demographics.  The survey will help us identify those who are willing to transport, as well as helping us to be more efficient in the bus routing process. 

Social distancing and maintaining stable groups for the health and safety of both our students and our staff is another critical piece of the planning puzzle, and one that remains at the forefront of our conversations. We are required to have students in stable groups at the elementary and middle levels with small numbers of students/staff remaining in a room at any given time. At the high school level where we have approximately 400 students moving from class to class, virtually never in the same classes with students from the class before, it is impossible to maintain stable groups.   However, at every level, whenever possible, we are required to keep the students in their classrooms, including for itinerant classes and for lunchtime, with staff moving in and out of stable groups throughout the day. Within the classrooms, social distancing rules requiring six feet of spacing between people must be in place if stable groups are not possible (as in our high schools). If six feet of spacing is not possible then face coverings are required. Creating spaces which adhere to these types of requirements in each of our buildings has been an ongoing conversation.

Parents will be required to attest to the fact, before children get on the bus, or are allowed entry into school, that children are healthy and not exhibiting any symptoms of any type of illness.  If children have colds, sniffles, or temperatures, parents will have to keep them at home.  Quarantine times for those who are sick at home, isolation spaces for those who are sick at school, and full time distance learning for those who must remain at home for extended periods of time have also been topics of conversations as we work through our plans. We are making sure to have plans in place for those who are sent home or who can’t return right away due to illness or exposure, whether they are staff or students.

We will continue our discussions related to curriculum, instruction and assessment, about school breakfasts and lunches, communities and culture.  One of the lessons learned last year was that we need to prioritize social and emotional issues for students, parents, and staff. Students that we know are in vulnerable situations will be prioritized.   We've been very reflective in the planning for our return to school based on the experiences with distance learning.  We are confident that our plan is safe, equitable, and it follows all of the current guidelines and requirements.

Many have suffered greatly due to this virus, struggling through illnesses and loss over these past months, and we are doing everything in our power to keep everyone safe. It is our top priority.  We continue to look to you for your cooperation, patience, and flexibility as the weeks go on and we move closer to our start date on August 31.

One critical and important aspect of our plan is a communications plan.  As mentioned earlier, the Scituate Reopening Plan is scheduled to be returned to us no later than July 31st. We will publish it and also provide a link on our website to a "Frequently Asked" questions section.  That section will be reviewed regularly and answers provided and posted.  Beginning next week, we will provide weekly updates, through newsletters and our web pages.  Additionally, informational videos which will include updates will be shared.  A "Town Hall" meeting is being planned for the beginning of August which will give everyone another opportunity to gather more information.  

Please keep an eye out for any of the aforementioned communication outlets or other channels of information available to you.  We plan on a full opening and as soon as we know that our plan allows for that, we will confirm that with everyone.  If another scenario is required we will share that with you immediately, as well.  Be sure to check your email inboxes frequently, as there most likely will be more information needed from you through further surveys.


Thank you for your attention.

Carol A. Blanchette

Scituate Superintendent of Schools