Catholic schools prepare to go back to classroom

'We may look back on this as a watershed moment, or maybe the most significant shift in Catholic education in the last 50 years.’ Ferris

Posted 8/27/20

By LAURA WEICK and JOHN HOWELL As Warwick's public schools challenge the governor and aim to begin the school year online for most students, many of the state's private Catholic schools hope to take the opposite approach. According to Pete Janhunen, a

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Catholic schools prepare to go back to classroom

'We may look back on this as a watershed moment, or maybe the most significant shift in Catholic education in the last 50 years.’ Ferris


As Warwick’s public schools challenge the governor and aim to begin the school year online for most students, many of the state’s private Catholic schools hope to take the opposite approach.

According to Pete Janhunen, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), public schools have to follow the governor’s guidance for reopening schools, but the state does not have the authority to enforce this on private schools. However, RIDE does recommend that private schools seriously consider the governor’s ruling. And if the Rhode Island Department of Health [RIDOH] limits the number of people allowed in a gathering, schools may be forced to close down if they cannot meet this standard.

All of the schools have crafted plans for shifting to hybrid or fully remote learning if necessary, in line with RIDE guidelines for public schools. All of the schools will require students, staff and faculty to wear masks, and will follow extensive cleaning guidelines if they open in-person in any capacity.

“We are always listening and consulting with our Catholic school office, RIDOH, RIDE and we listen to the governor’s press conference as well, so we make an informed decision on all of the information,” Hendricken Principal Mark DeCiccio said. “So we felt it was best to bring the students in slowly this way so they have a successful start of school. I’m not sure the actual reason the public schools waited, but we wanted to go gradual.”

Daniel Ferris, superintendent of the Diocese of Providence schools, said that the state’s 29 Catholic elementary, two Catholic middle schools and Catholic seven high schools will heed the governor’s guidance whenever possible. Ferris said about 9,900 Rhode Island students attend diocesan schools. All of the schools will allow students to learn online if requested, according to Ferris. Individual schools may have different reopening dates, but all will be open by Sept. 14.

Ferris offered an optimistic outlook on how the pandemic has affected learning. He said blended learning, where students in the same classroom may be doing different tasks and lessons at the same time based on their abilities and interests, has been propelled by distance learning. An example of this would be a class where one group of students is engaged in a lecture, while another is completing a project, yet another is using computers.

“We may look back on this as a watershed moment, or maybe the most significant shift in Catholic education in the last 50 years,” Ferris said. “We've been talking about personalized education. We've been talking about increasing educational technology in the classroom. We've been talking about diversifying education in a way that respects every child and their, their learning abilities, their talents, their potential. And going out in distance learning last spring, it pushed us into this in a way that before March 13, a lot of this was theoretical, or it was educational jargon. Today, it's a lived reality in our schools.”

Flipped classroom learning, in which students teach themselves the content at home and class time is devoted to discussion and problem solving, is another area of innovation that Ferris said distance learning helped pave.

Ferris also said that private schools did not have the same financial concerns that public schools had about being able to afford reopening, but that he is sympathetic to their cause. He said that busing is a major cost for many of the public schools, but private schools did not need to worry about paying for that. Private schools did have to consider the costs of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, PlexiGlass and hand sanitizer. Ventilation was also a concern for some private schools, as well as the cost of software. However, Ferris said that the Catholic schools are financially stable enough to reopen.

“None of our schools are facing financial challenges that are going to preclude them from opening,” Ferris asserted.

Ferris emphasized schools’ need to judge how their individual communities are handling the pandemic. He said that some schools in areas with large outbreaks are less confident about returning in person, while others who have not seen new cases in weeks are eager to return to the classroom. However, there has been a challenge for schools with students who come from multiple towns and cities, such as Hendricken and St. Raphael’s Academy in Pawtucket, where the state saw one of its first major COVID-19 outbreaks in early March.

“They've got a judge, you know what's going on in each of the municipalities that they draw from,” Ferris said. “And they can draw those kids, they can bring them in. But obviously they've got a monitor that very carefully because they have such a widespread student body.” Warwick’s parochial schools make preparations

Bishop Hendricken High School and Saint Kevin School plan to begin the school year in-person, although they are prepared to shift gears to a hybrid or remote model if necessary. The Saint Rose of Lima School and Saint Peter School will follow whichever plan Gov. Gina Raimondo recommends, although the Saint Rose of Lima School hopes to have pre-kindergarten students learn fully in-person. Raimondo plans to issue her recommendation on Aug. 31, which may change how any of these schools approach reopening.

The Warwick Beacon previously reported Hendricken currently intends to open fully in-person, albeit with adjustments for social distancing. However, the school has plans prepared if the school needs to move to a hybrid or completely virtual model.

Hendricken still plans to operate by separating grade levels into wings of the building to prevent cross-contamination whenever possible. Social distancing will be enforced and students can opt to take all of their classes online if desired. Under a hybrid model, grade levels would alternate between online and in-person classes.

“It’s only a matter of time before stuff happens, let’s be honest,” Fr. Robert Marciano, president of Bishop Hendricken High School and pastor of Saint Kevin Church, said. “These students are going to play with their friends, travel and possibly catch the virus, so there’s no perfect plan. But this is the closest to a perfect plan, since we might not have to close the entire school if there’s a case.”

Since then, the school has pushed the first day of school back to Monday, Sept. 14 in order to align with the governor’s orders for public schools. Hendricken has also updated its requirements for masks. Although Hendricken already required all staff, faculty and students to wear face coverings, on Aug. 19 the school announced more specific rules for facemasks. All face coverings now must have at least two layers and fit snugly on the nose and mouth. N95 masks will be prohibited, as the school argued that these masks should be reserved for medical professionals. Bandanas, neck fleeces, knitted masks and single layer masks will also not be allowed, as DeCiccio argued they are not safe enough to prevent spread.

“That’s based on a study that Duke University did,” DeCiccio said. “Masks and face coverings must be made of tightly-woven fabric like cotton, and it must have two layers of fabric, and must be a snug fit.”

According to the St. Kevin School’s website, the K-8 parochial school hopes to bring all students back to school. Everyone planning on going to school must complete a screening worksheet before leaving home, and if they answer “yes” to any of the questions, which includes symptoms and recent travel, the person will be asked to stay home. Everyone entering the building will have their temperature checked, and will use hand sanitizer at the entrance. There will also be no morning recess.

Students will stay in stable grade level pods throughout the day and eat lunch in their classrooms. Each pod will be assigned a bathroom, and during recess, pods will be socially distanced from other pods and be sectioned off in their own area of the playground. Everyone will be required to wear face masks at all times, and high-touch areas will be frequently sanitized. Students will also have staggered dismissal times.

If the school pivots to a hybrid learning scenario, classes of 15 or fewer students will continue as normal. However, larger classes will have extra students rotate between distance learning and in-person classes.

“For example, if a class has 18 students, we are over the limit by three students,” the St. Kevin School reopening plan read. “The first three students in alphabetical order on a teacher’s roster will not come to school that day. The next day the three students that stayed home will come to school and the next three students in alphabetical order will stay home. This method will continue as long as needed. Families should have a plan in place to accommodate students being out of school. Students that are not in school will be able to complete the same assignments their classmates are working on utilizing the Google Classroom Platform.“

The St. Rose School and St. Peter School did not share a preferred goal for how they will continue the school year on their website, instead saying they will follow the governor’s orders for public schools.

If the governor recommends a full in-person model, everyone at the St. Rose School except preschool students will be required to wear masks at all times. Preschool students do not need to wear masks in their homeroom but must wear them everywhere else. All students will be given “mask breaks” throughout the day, and masks are not required during recess or outdoor physical education. Students will eat lunch either in the classroom or outdoors if the weather permits, and will remain in pods. Students will also have access to cubbies and lockers, albeit at staggered times, and will be required to fill out a screening form like St. Kevin School before class.

If the governor recommends schools follow a hybrid learning model, students in preschool and students in first, sixth and eighth grade will attend St. Rose School every day, as these classes are small enough to allow this. Grades two, three, four, five and seven will be split into two groups under this model, and will alternate between distance learning and in-person classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays against Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday will be a distance learning day for all of these students. All in-person students will follow the guidelines listed in the full in-person model.

The St. Peter School hopes that by keeping their class numbers small, they can remain open even under a “partial-in person” model. However, safety is the school’s top priority for reopening, and is following rigorous hygiene procedures such as physical distancing, pods, six-foot distancing, frequent handwashing and surface sanitation and going outside when possible. All staff, faculty and students from kindergarten through eighth grade will need to wear masks, while preschool students will wear masks in hallways and in restrooms. Restrooms will also be assigned to bathrooms, and individual stalls in each bathroom will be assigned to one classroom.

“We have very large classrooms here, and we haven’t accepted many new students unless the class numbers have gone down,” St. Peter School Principal Christine Desmarais We’re trying to keep class numbers under 14, and we have about 160 students in our school total.”

If St. Peter School moves in-person at all, students’ arrival and departure times will be staggered based on last name, and hallways will move in a one-way path in hallways. Students will stay in pods throughout the day, and during recess, only two pods will be outside at a time, separated 14 feet away from each other. Anyone entering the building will need to fill a screening form for symptoms before arrival, and will be asked to stay home if they are not feeling well. Lunches will also be eaten in the classroom.

In a limited in-person scenario, preschool through fourth grade classrooms will be split in half for social distancing, with the teacher and the teacher’s aide alternating between the classrooms. Sixth graders will move to the cafeteria to create two separate pods separated 11 feet apart from each other, but taught simultaneously. Finally, since the school only has six students in the seventh grade class, grade eight will become a split classroom with grade seven.

All of the schools’ websites recommended that students receive rides or walk to school in case the state does not provide bus transportation.

catholic, schools, St. Kevin


3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Justanidiot

    the cathlics will die from covid leaving the rest of us to keep on keeping on

    Thursday, August 27, 2020 Report this

  • dennisgallagher321

    There are definitely things to do apart from the internet.

    Do you need help getting out of your house, exercising, making friends or finding a hobby?

    The private school plans are almost identical as public.

    Saturday, August 29, 2020 Report this

  • Justanidiot

    yes their plans are almost identical, and the public skuls are opting for safety of their students and staff. unless of course the pope intervenes and gives special dispensation.

    Monday, August 31, 2020 Report this