‘We don’t have a person to spare’: RI school districts struggling to cover classrooms, contact tracing

School Updates

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rhode Island’s second-largest school district has opted to shift to remote learning for the remainder of the week, due not only to a spike in cases among students and staff, but also delays in contact tracing, according to the superintendent.

Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse said the decision to go remote was not made lightly, adding that it was the only option left.

“It’s very complicated, what goes into the decision, because really it’s a case-by-case basis,” she explained. “But we knew that the contact tracing would not have caught up by the morning.”

Staffing shortages caused by close-contact quarantines have forced multiple schools to close at times throughout the state, but Cranston is the largest school system to revert the entire district to remote learning temporarily since reopening.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said during her weekly coronavirus briefing on Thursday that Rhode Island is “in a terrible spot,” but pushed back against suggestions that all schools should return to remote learning, even as cases among in-person students and staff nearly doubled the number of cases for those learning virtually.

“There is not a shred of evidence anywhere, in any country, in any state, that schools are a vector of spread,” she said.

Nota-Masse said one of the reasons she chose to shift her district to remote learning was because of a staffing shortage due to quarantines and potential exposure.

“Now you have students in the building and not enough adults to cover for the adults that are home for various reasons,” she said.

She’s hoping that over the next couple of days, the district can catch up on contact tracing before having students return to school in person.

The National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) tells 12 News that districts statewide have stepped up to help with contact tracing as it works to mitigate the high volume of cases.

But Tom DiPaola of the Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association argues that most districts are already spread too thin.

“The districts certainly don’t have the capacity to do it either,” he said. “Their job is to instruct kids.”

Raimondo suggested that schools will ultimately play a much larger role in helping the Rhode Island Department of Health with contact-tracing efforts.

“The volume is very intense,” she said. “We are actually moving to a model where we will let the schools move a little bit faster.”

NEARI’s Bob Walsh said while several school districts are conducting their own contact tracing, it isn’t possible for all of them to do so due to the significant number of teacher and staff absences.

“The schools do not have the extra bodies right now,” Walsh said. “We’ve got superintendents covering classrooms when teachers are out. We don’t have a person to spare right now.”

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