NARRAGANSETT – The Narragansett School System (NSS) recently submitted plans to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), outlining strategies for a wide range of scenarios for the district to reopen come Aug. 31. Governor Gina Raimondo has remained confident in the decision to return to full in-person schooling, though required districts to also address plans for partial in-person and full virtual learning in their preparations. The ultimate decision will likely come from the state department of health in mid-August.

“We are planning for a full return” said NSS Superintendent Peter Cummings. “That could change. That could change tomorrow. It could be a 50 percent return, it could be a 25 percent return and it could be a full return to distance learning. We have to plan for all of those eventualities as we’re going forward.”

Should NSS resume in-person education in any capacity, the district plans to require all students, staff and visitors to wear face masks during the school day, including on the bus, unless separated by 14 feet. Additionally, students will be separated into stable groups, the size of which will vary depending on the school.

“There will be some flexibility with [masks] when in a stable group,” said Cummings. “What the guidance tells us is if you’re in a common area, if you’re on the bus, if you’re going in and out of school, you need to be wearing a face mask. If you’re in the same stable group day in and day out, you do have some flexibility around taking your face mask off.”

Exceptions for mask wearing could also be made for students with severe disabilities and the district’s youngest students, the superintendent added.

“We know it’s not reasonable for a preschooler or a first grader to be wearing a face mask all day,” Cummings said. “But we will encourage everyone who can to wear one.”

In structuring stable groups, NSS plans to separate each high school grade into two teams each with five classrooms. At Narragansett Elementary School (NES) and Narragansett Pier School (NPS), stable groups would be determined by homeroom classroom.

“No one else can use those classrooms except for that one team so that we can maintain them as a stable group and not mix them with other stable groups,” said Cummings.

Further measures will likely include limiting buses to 25 students, daily COVID-19 screenings for students and staff, increased sanitation (deep cleaning of schools every night, increased cleaning throughout the school day), one-way hallways and repurposing classrooms and restructuring lunch periods to accommodate stable groupings.

If a student develops COVID-19 symptoms while at school, they will be taken to the school nurse and an isolation room and a parent or guardian will be notified to pick the student up. Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 before the school day begins is expected to stay home.

“Should you not feel well, we want students to stay home…Same thing if an employee does not feel well, we want them to stay home,” said Cummings.

The school committee will consider a revised attendance policy at its August meeting.

NSS’ plans for the academic year were drafted after input from a district-wide reopening task force consisting of a number of subcommittees and groups that included Cummings, administrators (principals to department directors), teachers, faculty, parents, union and PTO leaders, school nurses, educational coaches and members of the Narragansett School Committee. Surveys were also distributed throughout the spring to get an additional response from stakeholders (parents, staff, etc.)

The approximate 50-page plan was submitted to RIDE last week. The district plans to publish the document after receiving feedback from the department, which will likely come at the end of the month. While Cummings noted the district was anticipating a full in-person reopening, he said that could change based on the decision from state health officials.

“That’s certainly particularly challenging to families where there are working parents,” said Cummings, referring to the uncertainty of which scenario will play out. “I 100 percent understand that and I really wish we could give out information sooner. We will convey that information as soon as we have it.”

Other plans include slight delays in start times at NES and NPMS. NES will begin the school day at 9:30 a.m., up a half hour from its normal start, and NPS will start at 8:30 a.m. There is no change to the NHS start time of 7:30 a.m.

In considering plans for different scenarios, NSS determined a number of strategies and priorities including addressing the needs of its vulnerable student populations, relying on strengths such as its small district size and technology capacity, incorporating new knowledge and practices in battling COVID-19, ensuring sustainability of its reopening plans and taking feedback from students, staff and parents/guardians.

The district’s number one priority is health and safety.

“That’s the most important thing,” said Cummings. “We want everyone to be safe, we want them to be well and this whole design is really to keep everyone healthy.”

NSS has set up a section of its website dedicated to information around reopening schools at http://www.nssk12.org/school_reopening_2020. There is a virtual parent community forum for NHS scheduled on Monday, July 27 at 6 p.m. Please see the site above for details on how to participate.

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