Goal in Cumberland: Bring more students back

Goal in Cumberland: Bring more students back

CUMBERLAND – School officials say they feel a responsibility to safely get as many students into school as soon as possible, despite rising COVID-19 numbers.

Mondays would still remain as virtual days, Supt. Bob Mitchell told the School Committee last week, and families wishing to stick with distance learning would still have that option, but many families are indicating that they want their children in school more than two days per week.

Mitchell said it’s not surprising to see COVID-19 numbers increasing. School officials hope that with the arrival of vaccinations, case numbers will stabilize and the schools “won’t see the increases we’ve been seeing.”

According to the latest data, the total number of Cumberland students to test positive for COVID-19 as of Jan. 14 was 133, up from 114 on Jan. 8, 79 on Dec. 18, 56 on Dec. 10, 38 on Dec. 4, and 24 on Nov. 18.

The number of staff testing positive as of that date was 45, up from 43 on Jan. 8, 32 on Dec. 18, 26 on Dec. 10, 23 on Dec. 4, and eight on Nov. 18.

The number of students and close contacts who have had to quarantine has risen to 696, and the number of adults and close contacts having to quarantine is now at 139. The total number of school closures now stands at 22.

The goal, Mitchell told the committee at its Jan. 14 meeting, is to start by bringing elementary grades back full-time beginning sometime in March. The science will guide any decisions made, he said, and there is still a good deal of work to be done. Several meetings have already taken place about how to get more students into school, he said.

Mitchell also presented a couple of options for doing asymptomatic testing in schools, one with school staff trained to do the testing and the other to have the Rhode Island Department of Health come in on a specific date to do it. The committee decided on bringing the RIDOH in, with a tentative date of Feb. 24.

Committee member Mark Fiorillo asked whether Mitchell expects classrooms with 20 students in them. Mitchell responded that there are a number of challenges to be addressed, including transportation as a key issue. Officials know they can’t achieve six feet of distance between students, he said, but three feet with masks has been deemed acceptable elsewhere.

Member Denis Collins said a potential return for more days is exciting news, but asked if the district plans to poll families and teachers. Mitchell said that’s certainly an option, but from the emails he’s been getting, many seem to desire to have their students back in school on a more regular basis.

Member Kerry Feather urged extra caution with new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 now emerging.

Member Amy Rogalski asked about vaccines for teachers, and Mitchell said that though the original timetable was the middle or end of January for such inoculations to take place, issues with the supply chain have pushed that back.