SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Some students will be returning to the classroom on Tuesday, though many others will continue with distance learning for the next few weeks as the district continues with its staggered re-entry plan.
Superintendent Linda Savastano expressed words of thanks and praise toward all the teachers and staff that have been working to help welcome students back to their brick and mortar classrooms, and sharing her confidence in the safety and cleanliness of the facilities.
“I feel very safe breathing the air in South Kingstown,” Savastano said. “I feel very safe with the surfaces I’m touching. I know we’re going above and beyond.”
One of the more concerning hurdles that school districts across the state have been navigating is proper air flow in the classrooms. In South Kingstown, the district has begun adding air filters to its classrooms to improve air quality and ventilation. The district’s staggered start will allow to make sure every classroom is property prepared, according to Savastano.
Students in Pre-K, kindergarten, first, fifth, seventh and ninth grades will be returning for in-person learning this coming Tuesday. For nearly three full weeks following, the district will continue to ramp up student re-entry before the students in these select grades are joined by the rest of the student body. According to Savastano, Come Oct. 9, only students whose families have opted to continue with virtual learning will not be in the building.
Notably, however, students who are supported through an individualized education program have the option of returning to school in person, regardless of their grade level this coming Tuesday. Students may attend a full day, partial day or can participate in their services/therapies in a walk-in setting, according to Savastano. At the moment, the district is working with families to determine what’s best for their child.
Families who are choosing to participate in virtual learning, also have the option of having their child participate in services/therapies in a partial day or walk-in setting if they prefer.
When students do return to school, things will look a little different.
Limited capacity in the buildings and on school busses, social distancing measures, face mask requirements, increased handwashing and sanitization will all be part of the “new normal.”
In-person students will be asked to screen at home every day, according to Savastano, through Skyward — which can be accessed from the school district’s home webpage. It’s something that will take some time to get used to, she said, but for the foreseeable future, it will be part of their morning routine.
Upon arrival, students will also be screened for temperature and checked for a mask before entering the building.
The district will also be continuing with its extended grab n’ go meal offerings for in-person and distance learners, and some outdoor sports will be available to continue this season with safety procedures and guidelines in place.
In case of the need for students and teachers to be tested, sites have been established at different points through the state. The closest site for South Kingstown students will be in North Kingstown, according to Savastano.
Given the time of year and the number of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, school committee member Michelle Brousseau asked if any provision were being put in place for students and teachers who may be coughing or sneezing for reasons completely unrelated to the virus.
Unfortunately, if anyone has symptoms, they will need to go home, according to Savastano.
“We need to err on the side of caution,” she said.
Although most of the community comments made at Tuesday night’s school committee meeting concerned changes to the high school computer science program, community member and school committee candidate Karen Humes asked about changes to transportation. With the start of in-person school just around the corner, she expressed concerns that some families don’t have the information they need yet.
Some information is available on the district’s website this time, though Savastano noted that because of the staggered start schedule, some times may vary slightly.
The superintendent began her report that evening by asking members of the community for their patience and kindness during this hectic time of trying to return to some sense of normalcy. Complaints are inevitable and constructive criticism is necessary, Savastano said, but the way it’s shared is important.
“I’m asking the community, before we say or do things, as we move forward together, to help us all feel safe,” she said, continuing to share that she personally doesn’t feel safe when she’s speaking, sharing information, or “taking steps forward and leading.”
“From the bottom of my heart, there is nothing but best intentions happening,” she said.