Back to School: What you need to know as students start learning in person, virtually

Back to School

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Students across Southern New England are getting back into the swing of things with the new school year now underway.

Wednesday was the first day of school for some districts in Southeastern Massachusetts, including New Bedford and Fall River.

Certain districts, as they ease back into in-person learning, have students alternating between learning at school and at home. Other districts have some students at school full-time and the rest remote full-time, while a few districts decided to start the year with full distance learning.

All this week, 12 News Now This Morning will bring you in-depth, up-to-date coverage to help you and your family navigate an unprecedented school year.

Back to School coverage all this week on 12 News Now This Morning

With the exception of Providence and Central Falls, districts across Rhode Island were cleared to begin the new school year with full in-person learning, but were given the option to ease into it gradually.

No matter what their individual district is doing, all parents can choose to have their children learn virtually.

More Information: Back 2 School RI | RI Department of Education

COVID-19 cases have popped up at several schools in Rhode Island. Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, tells 12 News that as of Thursday, there have been 25-29 positive cases associated with K-12 schools.

The state has created an education operations center, or EdOC, to ensure their response to any positive cases is quick and effective. It’s staffed by a variety of state agencies and the R.I. National Guard.

Students and teachers will be tested through a new system separate from the rest of the state’s testing. Those sites, which opened on Monday, have a daily capacity of 4,000 PCR tests, which have a turnaround time of roughly 48 hours, and 1,200 rapid tests.

If you need to schedule a test you can call (844) 857-1814. The service is available seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Video Now: Steph Machado previews her upcoming story

A separate contract-tracing system has also been mobilized to handle case investigations at both public and private schools statewide. The state has designated 50 contact tracers to mitigate any cases that arise and ensure all close contacts are notified and told to self-quarantine.

A close contact, according to Dr. Jim McDonald, the R.I. Department of Health’s medical director, is someone who was in close proximity to an infected person for 15 minutes or longer.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday that students’ return to school went smoothly, and urged families to have confidence in the state’s plans and protocols.

Walk-throughs were conducted at every school building in Rhode Island to make sure COVID-19 regulations were followed and they’re safe to welcome back students and teachers.

On Monday, the Providence Teachers Union announced it’s asked a federal agency to investigate the health and safety of the city’s aging school buildings.

The state has secured federal funding for districts to hire additional custodians, who will continuously clean high-touch surfaces throughout the day. That funding will also allow the districts to purchase PPE, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, digital thermometers and air filtration systems, among other supplies.

In an effort to address any concerns and help students, teachers and parents prepare for the start of school, Raimondo and R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green hosted a series of online forums with health and education experts.

Online forums:

Raimondo urges students and teachers to download the CRUSH COVID RI app, which can help keep track of day-to-day symptoms. It also sends a push alert to remind users to screen themselves each day.

Lunchtime will be very different this year, with the traditional cafeteria setup not being a feasible option. Trays of food will be replaced by pre-packaged meals, and students may be eating in a classroom or other location to help maintain social distancing.

For families who rely on schools for meals, several districts are making “grab and go” meals available.

When it comes to busing, school districts have had to make adjustments in order to comply with the state’s mandates, which call for a significant reduction in the overall capacity of each bus. Raimondo also said pick-up and drop-off locations will be different from years past to prevent overcrowding.

On Monday, school bus drivers, monitors and aides authorized a work action against Durham School Services, which serves Cumberland Public Schools and two charter schools: Blackstone Valley Prep and Providence Mayoral Academy. The strike vote was authorized over claims that Durham “repeatedly failed to address critical health, safety and economic concerns of workers.”

In terms of school sports, the state is allowing most outdoor sports to hold their season as planned, with minimal to moderate modifications.

Football and volleyball will not play at first, but the state may allow them to have a second fall season in the spring, which would be a floating season that can be pushed to a later date.

Volleyball is unable to play because it is indoors and all of the players must touch the same ball, the state decided, while football cannot play because it requires close contact through blocking and tackling.

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