PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island high schools will be directed to decrease the number of students in their school buildings each day at the end of this month as the number of coronavirus cases rises, according to a letter obtained by 12 News.
The letter sent to superintendents from R.I. Deputy Education Commissioner Ana Riley says high schools should move to the “limited in-person” plans they submitted to RIDE over the summer, which would bring the buildings to no more than 25% capacity.
Riley said for many high schools this would mean distance learning for most students, with certain populations such as English learners, at-risk students and those with individualized education plans (IEPs) attending school in person.
The changes will take effect on Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“We know that our high school students function and live very differently than our younger students outside of school (i.e. jobs, sports, etc.) and want to make sure that we account for those factors,” Riley wrote.
High schools in many districts were already operating at 50% capacity since the start of school, with students switching off between in-person and distance learning. A number of school districts that were allowed to fully reopen chose the 50% model because high school students rotate classes and are exposed to more peers and teachers than younger students.
Pre-K through 8th grade students are unaffected by the changes, Riley said, and elementary and middle schools will remain open.
Riley also said organized school sports will be discontinued until January “as we continue to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community.”
“The governor will be addressing this tomorrow during her press conference,” said Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for RIDE, who otherwise did not comment.
Raimondo has resisted calls to close school buildings amid the rising rate of cases, insisting schools are safe with layers of protection such as masks, social distancing when possible and increased air flow.
But individual schools and districts have been closing and reopening in recent weeks as rising cases impact their staffing levels.
Leaders across the country are contending with what to do about schools in the second wave. New York City announced Wednesday it would close all of its school buildings, after the city’s positivity rate reached 3% on a seven-day average. (Rhode Island’s daily positivity rate on Wednesday was 7%.)