Online-only classes are an option

By LAURA WEICK
Posted 8/6/20

The Warwick School Department would allow students to opt for online-only courses if schools move to in-person or hybrid learning this fall. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo will announce recommendations for how schools should reopen this

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Online-only classes are an option

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The Warwick School Department would allow students to opt for online-only courses if schools move to in-person or hybrid learning this fall.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo will announce recommendations for how schools should reopen this fall on the week of Aug. 16, but for the time being the Warwick School Department aims to hold a mix of online and in-person classes. In this hybrid model, students would be divided into two groups based on last name that alternate between in-person and remote classes. One group would physically go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays while taking classes online other days, while the other would take in-person classes only Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday would be a remote learning day for all students, as well as a professional development day for teachers.

However, students can opt to take all of their classes online if Warwick moves forward with a hybrid or in-person model. Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) President Darlene Netcoh, who served on nine of the district’s COVID-19 reopening subcommittees, said that online-exclusive students would always be in the virtual half of their class regardless of day of the week. 

A survey of parents of students attending Warwick Veterans Middle School revealed that 22 percent of parents were “not at all comfortable” with their child returning to in-person school in the fall. 15 percent were “not very comfortable, 27 percent were “somewhat comfortable,” 17 percent “comfortable” and 17 percent “very comfortable.” 

However, parents reported that distance learning had some drawbacks: 31 percent of parents described their child’s distance learning grades as “not what they expected.” 19 percent of parents described distance learning as overall “excellent,” 43 percent rated it as “good,” 25 percent rated it as “fair” and 14 percent as “poor.” The most common complaints regarding distance learning reported by parents included students being assigned busy work instead of learning as well as a lack of social interaction with friends and teachers. In a similar survey for parents of elementary school children, parents reported that their children were not as motivated to do well in school, and younger children had difficulty using technology and paying attention to class.

Netcoh also said that students who opt out of in-person classes due to COVID-19 would be matched with teachers who are doing the same, if possible. According to a survey of 630 WTU members, or 70.6 percent of its membership, 81.2 percent said that they would return to school under any reopening model, while 18.8 percent, or 168 teachers, said they would only return under certain circumstances and will seek medical notes. However, Netcoh believes that more teachers will feel uncomfortable going back to school as Aug. 31 gets closer and if cases in Rhode Island increase.

Netcoh previously said that she would teach in-person, but she is sympathetic to teachers' concerns.

“Everyday they’re learning something new about [the virus],” Netcoh said. “Look at that summer camp in Georgia. They opened it up, they thought they were doing everything right, now hundreds of people have COVID-19. Perhaps the youngest kids don’t spread it as handily as older ones, but they do spread it.”

For students returning to school, the in-person or hybrid model will require all students, staff and faculty over the age of two to wear facemasks or coverings. Hand washing will be emphasized, and high-contact surfaces will be frequently cleaned.

Elementary and middle school students will stay in pods, which means that they will only interact with a group of about 12-15 other students. Students will not travel to other classrooms for different subjects or lunch; instead, teachers travel to classrooms and students eat in the classroom instead of the cafeteria.

High school students will travel from class to class, since older students take more electives and choose more of their classes. However, the pod system would make it so if someone in a school tests positive for COVID-19, the entire school wouldn’t necessarily have to close.

“If a fifth grader was exposed, the fifth grade class could move remote and you can still operate the school,” Warwick Superintendent Philip Thornton said. But it depends on if the student is outside their pod. If a high school student is exposed, there is potential to close that high school since they go from location to location.”

Lockers will no longer be used, according to Thornton. Instead, students will carry all of their materials in their backpacks. Students will have assigned times to use restrooms, which will have limited capacity. If a student needs to use the restroom outside of assigned times, they will have to go to the school nurse’s restroom.

Anyone who plans to enter a school building must fill a screening form that asks questions such as if someone has a fever, a cough or has been out of state. If a student, staff member or teacher answers yes to any of these questions, they will be required to stay home.

Each school will have designated entrances and exits for staggered arrival and departure. The Warwick School Department will release bus schedules later this month, but they have expanded the walking distance for students and encouraged parent or student driving in order to limit the number of students on busses.

Reopening will also impact classes and extracurricular activities. Although most core subjects like math and English can be taught similarly to how they were pre COVID-19, other subjects will have to address certain issues. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League will determine if Warwick and over 50 other schools will participate in athletics this fall.

“Music is going to be redefined because we know singing and wind instruments are something we can’t do right now, and we can’t do wind instruments either,” Thornton said. “Maybe we can still do keyboard, strings and percussion.”

Thornton said that each school community would hold virtual meetings starting on Aug. 13th, with principals sending out invitations for each school. Parents, teachers and administrators can share information regarding the virus and answer questions. 

As previously reported, a hybrid in-person and remote model would cost the district an additional $15.7 million in order to meet sanitation and social distance requirements, as well as to provide new technology and hiring staff including custodians, bus monitors and lunch aides. In contrast, online-only classes would cost the district $3 million on top of the already approved budget. 

Both Netcoh and Thornton repeatedly emphasized that the ultimate decision for reopening hinges on the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) determines and funding. 

“The biggest challenge is just not having the answers we need to plan accordingly,” Thornton said. “It takes a great deal of time and planning to open a school district. Aug. 17 is too late to understand which model to use, and not having the funding in place is beyond problematic.”

RIDE explained that giving Warwick and other municipalities more funding depends on federal government aid.

“RIDE fully understands the budgetary challenges posed by preparing for school during the global pandemic,” RIDE spokesman Pete Janhunen said. “Like many states, Rhode Island requires additional federal funding to provide additional support for our local school budgets, and we are waiting for the next round of federal aid to provide that much needed support. We continue to work with the Governor, leaders of the General Assembly and our federal legislative delegation as they press for additional funding in Washington.”

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