Cumberland goes virtual next week

Cumberland goes virtual next week

Collins warns of substandard contact tracing

CUMBERLAND – With the Wednesday before Thanksgiving already on the state’s calendar as a day off, and a regular planned virtual day two days earlier, school officials decided it doesn’t make sense to have half of students come to school next Tuesday, Nov. 24, Supt. Bob Mitchell told the School Committee last week.

Given the “skyrocketing number” of COVID-19 cases in the state, he said, school officials felt it just made sense to turn Nov. 24 into another distance learning day for everyone.

Mitchell said he felt it was important to let the public know so they can plan accordingly.

School board members again emphasized the struggles of running school in this pandemic year. Member Mark Fiorillo said staff members are doing the best they can, but remain under great stress. He urged parents to reach out to them to give them some words of encouragement.

Chairman Paul DiModica highlighted how school districts are probably going to end up taking over the lead on contact tracing related to COVID-19 and then advising the Rhode Island Department of Education on “what we’re up to.” Gov. Gina Raimondo has simply lost control, he said, and it will mean a lot more work for local districts.

Member Denis Collins said he’s noticed a lot of clamoring for in-house contact tracing, but he warned that the process won’t be nearly as effective as what the Rhode Island Department of Health can accomplish with its tracing efforts. Where RIDOH can go outside the school doors, tracing people to places of work, places of worship and to family gatherings, in-house tracing would be focused just within the school and on keeping it open. Collins said he’s not sure how effective the tracing will be if it doesn’t extend beyond school walls.

Member Heidi Waters noted a Breeze story last week on students in North Smithfield experiencing “pandemic depression,” leading to assignments not being turned in and missed meetings. She said she’s seen much of that same effect in Cumberland, urging everyone to identify the reasons students might not be doing so well and make sure supports are provided to them.

Mitchell said in a Nov. 11 memo to Cumberland High School staff and families that officials had learned a short time earlier about another high school student who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Since we still have not received guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health on several other cases, we feel it is necessary to complete this week with distance learning out of an abundance of caution,” he said.

“Superintendents from all over the state have expressed concern with both the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education regarding the slow response to contact tracing,” he added. “We need information in a timely manner to make the important decision to either have students attend school or remain home with distance learning.

“Given these circumstances, we feel that finishing the week with distance learning is the responsible decision. Again, we apologize for the late communication, however, we wanted to give our students, staff, and families time to plan accordingly.”