RI medical director to students: We need to be kind to each other now more than ever

School Updates

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The first day of school is in less than a week, and state leaders are encouraging students to not only have an open mind, but an open heart as well.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green were joined by R.I. Department of Health Medical Director Jim McDonald and Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam for the last of their weekly online forums ahead of the school year. The panel fielded questions submitted by students from across the state on what to expect come Sept. 14.

McDonald said he had two main requests from students this year. He urged everyone to be kind to one another “now more than ever.”

He also encouraged students to reach out to the “new kids” to ensure they’re not alone during these unprecedented times.

“We told you to be physically distant, we didn’t tell you to not be friendly,” McDonald said. “During a pandemic, more than anything else, we desperately need each other. Kindness is really what we’re looking for right now.”

High school seniors voiced their concerns regarding school events and spending time with their friends.

Cottam encouraged the state’s seniors to “get creative.”

“Create something new and different that will be everlasting,” she said. “It’s hard, but you can make it great.”

She also encouraged seniors to virtually volunteer for nonprofits this year.

“I would challenge you to think of other things you can do in addition throughout your school year that maybe helps somebody else,” Cottam said.

One student asked if there would be opportunities to take off his mask during the school day. McDonald reassured him, saying we’re all human and everyone will need a break.

“I don’t think there are going to be any mask police at your school to catch you when you take off your mask for a few minutes,” McDonald said.

He also said they expect schools to provide “mask breaks” during the day.

Another student asked whether their teacher could sit next to her and help her with her schoolwork.

McDonald acknowledged there will be times teachers will not be six feet apart from their students.

“As long as you’re wearing a mask and your teacher is wearing a mask, you’re protecting each other,” he said.

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Raimondo took time during the forum to highlight the state’s back-to-school plan, which includes both a separate testing system and contact-tracing system, as well as an “education operations center,” which will be staffed by a variety of state agencies.

“When students and teachers test positive, which we know will happen, we are ready for it,” she said. “We will deal with it and make sure there’s not an outbreak.”

When a student or teacher tests positive, McDonald reiterated that only close contacts, which he described as those who were close to the affected person for 15 minutes or longer, would be ordered to quarantine.

“I wouldn’t expect the whole class to be quarantined just because one person got sick,” he said.

All but two school districts, Providence and Central Falls, were given the green light to fully reopen for full in-person classes starting Sept. 14, though some, including Warwick, Pawtucket and Cumberland, have opted to begin the school year virtually.

Previous online forums:

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