By ARDEN BASTIA In a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7, the school committee unanimously voted to reopen schools for in-person learning, a discussion that has been long awaited by parents and students alike. Elementary, middle, and high school
In a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7, the school committee unanimously voted to reopen schools for in-person learning, a discussion that has been long awaited by parents and students alike.
Elementary, middle, and high school students began returning to the classroom for in-person learning on Jan. 13 with a phased reopening. All students, regardless of grade, will continue to distance learn on Mondays. Transportation is provided to only select students starting Jan. 19.
Based on the most recent survey sent out by the administration, more than 70 percent of Warwick parents asked for their children to return in-person four days per week. Parents and guardians were given the option to return for in-person learning, or continue with distance learning. Assistant superintendent and director of elementary education, Lynn Dambruch, emphasized that the decision is a commitment for the entire semester.
“We have a lot of PPE in the buildings, and we recently provided teachers with Plexiglas to separate themselves from the students, and the students from one another,” said Dambruch. “We will be receiving more Plexiglas for reading specialists and math intervention as well. Health and safety is a priority.”
In anticipation of the return to the classroom, over 1,400 air purifiers and conduits have been installed in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
Special education classrooms that were previously open, initially at Drum Rock Elementary and then moved to WELC in November and December, officially reopened for four day in-person learning on Jan. 13. The school day is extended from 8:55 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. Integrated classrooms that were not yet open for in-person learning will reopen from 8:55 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. on a hybrid schedule on Jan. 19. Transportation for students in special education or integrated classrooms will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
“I think this is a solid plan we have going forward,” said Julie Martin, social worker at WELC. “Ultimately it comes down to just having enough staff to safely facilitate our programs, and right now it looks as though with the help of HR and all of their great work, we’re able to do that.”
Elementary students in special education classrooms that were previously open returned for four days of in-person learning at their home schools on Jan. 13.
Middle and high school students in special education classrooms that were previously open at Vets returned for four-day, in-person learning at their home schools on Jan. 13. Transportation will begin on Jan. 19, but will only be provided for those students who have it in their individual learning plans (IEPs).
The Warwick Area Career and Tech Center (WACTC) reopened for four day, in-person learning on Jan. 13. No transportation is being provided at this time. “I’m very confident with reopening,” said Tim Kane, director of the WACTC. “Every effort has been made. We’ve done well before this and we’ll continue to do well.”
Elementary students will return for four days of in-person learning starting Jan. 19. Transportation for eligible elementary students will possibly begin in February, and will be a phased process, according to Dambruch.
“Providing four days of learning is very important,” said Dambruch during the meeting. “We’re finding that the distance learning isn’t engaging students as much as it should be.”
Kindergarten and first grade students will return on Jan. 19, second and third grade will return on Jan. 20, and fourth and fifth grade will return on Jan. 21.
Middle schools and high schools are set to reopen for a hybrid-learning model on Jan. 19, but no transportation will be provided. Secondary students will be assigned a Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday in-person group, determined by school and based on last name.
“We’ve had the opportunity to work with a team of 20 teachers and administrators to put together our initial plans. We’ve reviewed the plans of other districts and studied what the best practices are,” said William McCaffrey, director of secondary education.
Sixth grade students in Group A return to the classroom on Jan. 19, while sixth grade students in Group B return on Jan. 20. Seventh and eighth grades in Group A return on Jan. 20, and seventh and eighth graders in group B return on Jan. 22. Ninth graders in Group A return on Jan. 19, and ninth graders in Group B return on Jan. 20. Grade ten through twelve Group A students return on Jan. 21, and Group B students return on Jan. 22. An orientation for students in sixth grade and ninth grade is being planned.
The tentative schedule for secondary students allots ten minutes between each class, “allowing ample time for each classroom to be cleaned. Students will move from classroom to classroom, but each room, including the gym, will be cleaned in between,” said Candace Caluori, principal of Toll Gate High School. “We’ve taken a very strong look at what is feasible and safe for our students, faculty, right down to our custodians.”
Caluori described four separate entrances and exits for students to use, as well as one-way hallways and stairwells. “We know there will be tweaks as we go, as there should be. We learn something new everyday about what works best and what doesn’t.”
The meetings also discussed reopening high school sports with start dates provided by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL). Thirty high schools in the state started practices on Jan. 4. The school committee approved Warwick practices to start on Jan. 8, and games will begin on Jan. 18. The Department of Health issued extensive guidance on safely returning to sports. Boys and girls ice hockey, basketball, track and field, swim, and gymnastics will be offered. Warwick is not offering wrestling or competitive cheerleading this year, as both sports are considered high risk.
“I am confident we can put our athletes in the best possible position to stay healthy and participate in their sports,” said athletic director Ken Rix.
While parents are looking forward to the return to in-person learning, the lack of transportation has caused some concerns.
According to Superintendent Philip Thornton, “We have a finite number of buses. Going forward, we made elementary a priority. To finally coordinate the new runs and have everything locked in, we’re looking at an early February time frame for elementary busing.”
Administration is also in talks with private schools and dioceses to work together in order to be more efficient. According to Robert Baxter, executive director of finance and operations, 96 buses are needed. “We had 29, I think we’re up to 35 now, but we’re scrounging for buses. We’re looking at how to make the routes more efficient, and we’re taking advantage of the school committee approved longer walking distances.”
Baxter also explained the shortage of bus drivers and First Student contract negotiations as more hurdles to the issue.
But despite the logistical points that still need to be worked out, the idea of safety was reiterated throughout the meeting, reassuring parents and guardians that reopening Warwick schools will be done in the safest way possible. As Adam Heywood, principal of Warwick Veterans Middle School, said, “Everything we do will be grounded in safety. The health and safety of our school community will be a top priority.”