PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee announced a new pilot program for Rhode Island school districts aimed at decreasing the number of students needing to miss class due to quarantine protocols.
If modeled after Massachusetts, the “test-and-stay” program would allow students who would otherwise be at home quarantining to continue attending class while undergoing multiple days of rapid testing.
McKee said he’s heard from multiple superintendents regarding the number of kids who are missing class due to quarantine protocols.
“We’ve had 4,000 of 145,000 kids in quarantine recently,” McKee said. “From a percentage point, that’s strong and we just want to make it better.”
Tomas DiPaola, executive director of the R.I. School Superintendents Association, tells 12 News that administrators have been concerned about the state’s quarantine protocols this year, which initially said “a person (student or staff) who has any one symptom of COVID-19 should stay home/be sent home from school, regardless of vaccination status.”
Those symptoms include cough, headache and congestion. There are also guidelines for those who are considered close contacts of someone who’s tested positive for the virus.
“Many districts are concerned about the interruption in instruction and the interruption in learning that’s occurring as a result [of quarantines],” DiPaola said.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, tells 12 News the state updated its guidance for quarantining earlier this week.
The new guidelines allow schools to choose to isolate and test those who are only exhibiting one symptom or apply the criteria used last year, which consisted of either one major or two minor symptoms.
In addition, Wendelken said “unvaccinated household members that aren’t showing symptoms are no longer automatically sent home while waiting for the symptomatic person’s test results.”
“People raised concerns about that – that they were quarantining kids that ultimately tested negative, so it seems like that has been prevalent across the state,” DiPaola said.
The governor said districts, including Westerly, have already expressed interest in the pilot program.
“We know that safe, in-person learning is the best option for our children and we want to make sure our students have as many in person, undisrupted school days for learning this year as possible,” McKee said.