NORTH PROVIDENCE – As students head back to school after winter vacation, North Providence school leaders say the district is prepared to navigate the unknowns of the pandemic in the New Year.
Supt. Joseph Goho said Monday that the district was continuing to follow the Rhode Island Department of Health’s COVID playbook for schools very closely.
There has been some confusion, though, after the Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance. While the state suggests 10 days of quarantine if a student tests positive for COVID-19, the CDC is now only recommending five days of quarantine, followed by five days of mask-wearing.
“People are going to their pediatrician, who is giving them the CDC guidance, but in the context of North Providence schools, we’re still following the state’s handbook,” Goho said, adding that the state sent superintendents an email last week indicating that there are plans to revise the school guidance.
In the meantime, Goho said there are a number of protections in place to help protect students and staff. All schools have rapid testing available, and students may be tested with a BinaxNOW rapid test, with parental consent, if they’re showing symptoms.
There isn’t a district-wide testing system in place, but members of the school community can test outside of school at a state-run facility specifically for educators and students.
“That option has been pretty convenient. It’s close by, and the turnover of results has been pretty rapid. I still feel confident relying on that system,” he said.
School department leaders continue to monitor COVID-19 data, and Goho said that data will continue to guide their next moves as cases increase statewide.
“We’ve been using, what I’d describe as ‘surgical closures’,” he said, adding, “if we see a cluster in a particular classroom, or the teachers are positive and there are no subs, the Department of Health allows you to move to distance learning for individual classes, different grades at the elementary level, teams at the middle school or pods at the high school.”
North Providence will continue with the so-called “surgical closures” as needed.
On Monday, the first day back to school, Goho said there was a substantial increase in the number of staff that tested positive and had to be quarantined. Luckily, he said, North Providence has been fortunate to have a substantial pool of available substitutes during the school year thus far.
“Whether that will continue, I’m not sure, but right now I have high numbers of staff out, and we’re not closing school,” he said. “I’d say half to three-quarters of our current vacancies are covered.”
The district would decide whether to close based on staffing levels, while the state would determine whether to close based on a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Data shows the schools are very safe, and national data shows schools aren’t high places of transmission,” he said. “The students have been great with masking and social distancing, and we’re keeping the schools clean and following protocols. We believe school is the best place to be.”
Goho said they appreciate the willingness of the school community to continue to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus and to adjust to ever-changing guidelines.
“We’ve been able to manage pretty well the past year, as one of the few districts to continue with in-person learning,” he said. “If we’re able to hunker down for another month or so, we may be able to get past the worst of this.”