School leaders discuss reopening plans, new virtual academy

School leaders discuss reopening plans, new virtual academy

PAWTUCKET – In a virtual presentation Monday night, school officials shared five different scenarios for reopening schools later this month along with plans for a new year-long virtual academy.

“Our plans are just that: they’re plans and they’re in drafts,” Supt. Cheryl McWilliams, pictured, said. “The decision for reopening will be determined by our governor. The safety of our students, our families and our staff is of utmost importance to us.”

In addition to McWilliams, Assistant Supt. Lisa Ramzi and Curriculum Director Kaija Robinson discussed the school district’s plans and answered questions.

While officials initially submitted four reopening scenarios to the Rhode Island Department of Education, they have since added a fifth. The proposed options include a full in-person reopening, a partial in-person reopening, a limited in-person reopening, full distance learning, and a virtual learning academy.

Under the partial and limited in-person reopening proposals, students will be divided into cohorts, with different groups learning inside the school buildings on different days of the week, Ramzi explained. On days they aren’t in school, they will be distance learning. Groups include students with last names starting with A-K, students with last names starting with L-Z, and specialized populations.

In the partial in-person plan, pre-K students and specialized populations would be in the school buildings Mondays through Thursdays while students through grade 5 with last names starting with A-K would be in the buildings Mondays and Wednesdays and the other group would be in school Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday would be a distance learning day for everyone.

School officials said they hope that would be for the first two weeks of school and that by week three, all students in pre-K through grade 5 would be back at school.

For middle and high school students during the first two weeks of school, specialized groups would be in the building Monday through Thursday while students with last names starting with A-K would attend Monday and Wednesday and the other group would attend Tuesday and Thursday with Friday being a distance learning day for all.

Starting with week three, Monday would become the distancing learning day for all. Ramzi said that’s to account for the many distance learning days built into the state calendar. “We want that to be consistent,” she said.

Limited-in person would have a Monday distance day for all students with one group attending on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other on Wednesdays and Fridays. Specialized groups and pre-K will go into school Tuesday through Friday.

Students and staff will be kept in the same groups of 30. Masks will be worn at all times in the school buildings and each student will have their own Chromebook. Food services will always be available.

For families who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school in any scenario involving an in-person learning option, Ramzi said they’ve created a virtual learning program in which Pawtucket teachers will teach live in a virtual classroom, different from how virtual learning worked this past spring. This academy will not be available for pre-K students.

Interested families will need to commit for a full marking period, she said. “Regular and consistent attendance is expected.”

Registration for this virtual academy is required, and the deadline to fill out the survey/application is Friday, Aug. 7. The survey can be found at www.psdri.net .

School officials noted that the virtual academy option has been picking up interest as many parents who took surveys said they’re still worried about sending their children back to school. It’s looking like a little over 2,000 students want to participate, McWilliams said.

Some parents asked about switching between the virtual academy and in-person learning, and McWilliams said that they will try to accommodate each situation as it arises.

School officials also noted that special education, or IEP services, will continue to be available for both in-person or distance learning.

The School Department is asking parents to keep their kids at home if they feel ill. If a student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, parents will be notified by the school, and depending on who was in contact with that person, they will have to self-quarantine.

Gov. Gina Raimondo is expected to make her decision on school reopening plans on Aug. 17.

“We’ll probably do a robocall to let you know what Pawtucket will be doing,” Ramzi said.