WOOD RIVER JCT. — Surveys of Chariho parents and staff show an overall willingness to return to in-person learning in the fall, but the mechanics of doing so during the COVID -19 pandemic are challenging.

Families and staff completed separate surveys that closed on July 13, and Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard said three subcommittees had been reviewing the results.

“All of the admins [administrators] and the subcommittees made up of over 60 stakeholders have been reviewing the data to inform the planning,” she said. 

The family survey

The family survey, which had 1,119 responses, shows about a third of parents, 33%, are “completely comfortable” with their children returning to school. Most parents, 40%, said they were “leaning toward” sending their children to school and 23% said they wanted an option to continue with distance learning.

Asked how they felt about alternating days of in-person learning with distance learning, 35% of parents said they had “no issue,” 37% said it would be “difficult,” but they would make it work, and 28% said it would be “very challenging.”

A clear majority of parents, 78%, said their children would be using school buses. Transportation will be a major issue for Chariho, because Rhode Island Department of Education guidelines will require social distancing on the buses and, therefore, the district will need a greater number of buses. The district is currently evaluating its resources to determine whether transporting children by school bus will be feasible under the guidelines.

RIDE is asking districts to be prepared to implement one of four options when schools open on August 31: distance learning, partial in-person, limited in-person or full in-person instruction. School districts were required to submit detailed, 20-page “reopening” plans last week, which RIDE is now vetting.

“We will receive feedback from RIDE by July 28 and we are planning to implement the plan based on Rhode Island Department of Health guidance,” Picard said. “We should be closer to finalizing the plan once RIDE gives us the rest of the guidance.”

The Chariho plan describes three school-opening scenarios. In the first, in-person learning would be 100% with all children in the classrooms. Among the challenges of the 100% option are bus transportation and maintaining social distancing.

The second option, described as a “partial” opening, includes a combination of distance and in-person learning. All students would be distance learning on Mondays. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, half of the students would be at school, while the other half would be distance learning. This arrangement would be reversed on Thursdays and Fridays so the children who were distance learning would be in the classroom.

The third and final scenario would further limit classroom learning to only those students who have had difficulties adapting to distance learning, including the differently-abled population.

Picard will present Chariho’s plan at tonight’s School Committee meeting.

School Committee member Catherine Giusti said she had heard from several parents who were reluctant to send their children back to school but most seemed to favor in-person learning.

“I understand that there are many parents, apparently 75% who took the survey, who are ready for their children to return to in-person learning,” she said. “I don’t think we can make a decision right now as to what we’re going to do until we have more information and guidance.”

Staff survey

Of the 301 teachers and staff who responded to the staff survey, nearly 70% said they felt comfortable about returning to in-person classes. Fewer than 5% said they would seek a medical exemption for returning because of risk factors.

Tom Pirnie, president of the union representing education support professionals, said his members wanted to return, but they still had concerns.

“There’s some concern, I think, number one being the health of students,” he said. “Student safety and health I think is the utmost importance, but going along with that I think staff and schools, everyone, we’re on the front lines. We’re going to be exposed quite a bit and I think there’s some anxiety that goes along with that, you know? But I think also, our members recognize the importance of being back in school, but there’s a certain sacrifice that’s made when going back.”

More public consultation coming

The Chariho plan will be revised when the district receives feedback from RIDE. More surveys are planned, as well as virtual forums, which will begin in August. Conducted by each school in the district, the forums will provide opportunities for residents to hear the final plan and ask questions. The latest information on Chariho’s back to school planning and COVID-19 response is available on the district’s website at https://www.chariho.k12.ri.us/.

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

@cynthiadrummon4

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