NORTH KINGSTOWN – During Tuesday’s North Kingstown School Committee meeting, superintendent Philip Auger provided an update on the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year, though he said that there were presently more questions than answers.

All Rhode Island schools were closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) issued guidelines for reopening schools in the fall, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the issue.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a great deal to report, in terms of the details, they’re just not known to us yet,” Auger said. “There are way, way more questions about reopening than answers, even with the RIDE guidance that came out.”

Auger said that North Kingstown, along with seven other districts in the state, would be working with the Connecticut Center for School Change–a non-profit organization with a mission to improve teaching and learning, to reduce achievement gaps, and to promote equity in schools–to help coordinate the reopening plan.  

“They don’t have all the answers, but they do have a way to kind of organize us and get us focused on asking the right questions,” Auger said.

The school department is currently working to put a plan together by July 17.

The plan, Auger said, would have three alternative options for reopening schools. The first would see all students returning to schools in the fall, every day of the week; the second would be a more restricted reopening, with a limited number of students returning; and the third option would allow for a very small number of students returning to schools, only those who “absolutely need to be in the buildings because there education would be affected so much if they weren’t,” Auger said.

However, all of these options could be upended “at a moment’s notice,” Auger said, especially if there is another COVID-19 spike in the fall, which could result in a retreat back to distance learning.

Auger said that the school committee would have to focus on investing in educational technology to prepare for the possibility of a returning to distance learning.

He also said administrators, teachers and students would have to be prepared to go into quarantine, if there is an exposure to the coronavirus.

A district advisory committee has also been formed, with committee chair Greg Blasblag representing the school committee. Members include representatives from the elementary, middle and high schools, as well as union members, parents and students.

“As we get our plans and steps to solidify them, they will be a group that we will report to and try to get some feedback,” Auger said.

Another point of concern, Auger said, was busing.

A transportation survey was sent out to all parents on Tuesday, gauging their interest in their children riding the bus.

Auger said that, due to state regulations, there is a strict limit on the number of students allowed on a bus at the same time, adding up to about one child per seat. He went on to say that the guidelines could affect the bus routes “significantly.”

The survey will ask parents if they would be willing and able to drive children or carpool to school, which will give the department a better idea of how many students will need to ride a bus.

“We just don’t know how much of that we’re going to need to do until we get a sense from the community about their readiness to find an alternative way into school, other than a bus,” Auger said.

The restrictions could lead to changing schedules for schools in order to increase the capacity for bus runs, Auger added. 

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