Students statewide will be back in school this fall, with new restrictions, announced Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday. Schools in the coming year will go to virtual learning to replace traditional days off for snow days, meaning the end of the year will likely happen right on schedule.

Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante Green announced several key steps to fulfill the state’s commitment to safely reopen public K-12 schools this fall. The governor’s goal is for all districts to work to return to in-person learning on Aug. 31.

She announced that she's planning to send some $42 million in federal CARES Act money to districts to help them deal with the changes that will be needed to accommodate in-person learning, including greater spacing of desks and triple the bus routes that are currently in place statewide.

The primary element is a statewide calendar for all public school districts to use during the 2020-2021 academic year. The calendar is a "dynamic planning tool," said the state officials, which RIDE will update and share throughout the school year in response to the unfolding public health situation. It will provide consistency to families and students, while also enabling educators and school systems to collaborate on activities like shared professional development.

“We are planning for a safe, in-person return to school this fall,” said Raimondo. “The first step comes today, with our new statewide school calendar. This gives us a solid foundation to ensure our students are back in their classrooms as soon as possible, while providing the flexibility we need to quickly respond to changing circumstances. We are moving forward on all fronts to make sure school opens on time.”

“The entire Rhode Island education community stepped up to make distance learning happen on short notice this year, and for that we should be extremely proud,” said Infante-Green. “We are working to develop a range of options to help schools open, make sure students learn, and safeguard their health and safety. By putting all our school systems on a common calendar, we will be able to provide the high levels of support and coordination we need no matter what the future brings.”

RIDE is working with the Rhode Island Department of Health to develop a continuum of reopening scenarios, balancing prioritizing the health and safety of school communities with providing in-person instruction as soon as possible. RIDE will be providing guidance to districts, charters and state-run schools next week to help them develop their own individual back-to-school plans. Those plans will be submitted to RIDE for review and implementation support.

Highlights of the statewide 2020-21 school year calendar include:

• All Rhode Island public schools will begin Aug. 31.

• All students and teachers will have a winter vacation Feb. 15-19.

• All students and teachers will have a spring vacation from April 19-23.

• The following days will be statewide professional development days: Sept. 21, Oct. 19, Nov. 16, Dec. 14, Jan. 25, March 15, April 12, and May 17. Those days will be distance learning days for students.

• Snow days will still be determined at the district level, and school will be held via distance learning.

• Graduations can be held by high schools any time after their 170th day of instruction, which is expected to be June 2.

• The statewide school year for students will end on the 180th day of instruction, which is expected to be June 16. School systems may choose to add instructional days to their calendar beyond the 180-day required statewide calendar.

While RIDE encourages private schools to follow the statewide calendar, those decisions will be made at the school level.

“The consistency of the school calendar is one step in addressing the enormous challenge of supporting children in every ZIP code,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of RIDOH. “Access to stable, quality education is a major socioeconomic and environmental determinant of health. While addressing the immediate health threat posed by the pandemic, we must continue working on the underlying, structural factors that drive health disparities to begin with. Every child deserves an equal opportunity to grow up healthy and flourish.”

The commissioner stressed that schools will be ready to conduct distance learning throughout the school year if students become sick, are quarantined, or are otherwise unable to attend school for an extended period of time. RIDE will continue to work with local education agencies (LEAs, which include districts, charters and state-run schools) to review statewide plans and coordinate with local education leaders on implementation.

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