Superintendent Bob Girardi provided an update on Covid to the school committee at its December 20 meeting and discussed the decision to switch to distance learning for the last week of school before the Christmas holidays. He reported that nurses Liz Dyer and Linda Kloster have performed 134 tests for PCR Covid, as well as 180 rapid tests for Covid, and also said they expect to conduct another 50 tests in the coming days. Unfortunately, multiple cases of Covid have been detected across different student groups. In addition, several cases have been reported among the adult population of the island in recent days.
The school’s medical team has been in frequent contact with Block Island Medical Center, and Girardi reported that a consensus had been reached among medical professionals and school management that the best way to safely run the school, protect students and staff, and protect the school was the community to switch to distance learning for the last six days of term. leading up to the Christmas holidays.
Girardi, who called it a “difficult decision”, said he would prefer keeping children in school and urged avoidance of switching to distance learning. But with the Block Island community experiencing a “third wave or flowering,” Girardi said the input and advice he’s received has been consistent in order to “nip this in the bud.” By going into distance learning, the school hopes to avoid further outbreaks of disease among students and the Block Island community.
Committee member Persephone Brown said she was surprised and frustrated at first, but with so much exchange between students, and the larger community seeing a rise in cases, distance learning makes the most sense.
An attending parent questioned why the school should be closed due to Covid if safety protocols were in place and properly followed. The parent wondered how one could motivate the children to do their part, if the school ended up being remote learning anyway. “What good is the capsules, if we are not going to use them?” asked the father.
Students are divided into “groups” of elementary, middle, and high schools. The idea is that the capsules will not be in contact with each other, using different entrances, different lunch areas, etc. Presumably, this will give management the ability to isolate the capsule, if positive cases are found within that capsule, and send only that capsule to remote learning. Unfortunately, in this case, there have been cases through the centuries.
School Committee Chair Jess Wylie noted that although students are divided into groups, teachers and staff are not, and many teachers have to cross capsules throughout the day. Art teacher Lisa Robb was in attendance and said she had been in contact with all three positive cases at the school last week, and that she is also in contact with all the other students at the school.
And Rob isn’t the only one. Many teachers have classes with many pods, not to mention the naturally occurring crossing of pods with siblings.
The parent asked why the school was not following state guidelines on distance learning, as Rhode Island public schools continue in-person learning. Willie, Girardi and Nurse Liz Dyer all answered that state guidelines allow school administrations to come up with a plan that’s more stringent than the state requires. In this case, the school is moving to distance learning while the state is not. Gerardi mentioned that
The school is running more Covid tests than the state requires, too.
Dyer spoke of the school’s difficulties with Covid protocols, saying the high school in particular is “having trouble with mask compliance.” She also pointed to the fact that not all students are vaccinated and not all students can even be tested. Parents must sign an authorization slip for the test, and not all parents do.
Willie said that eligible primary school children have recently received vaccinations, and this could make them more applicable to follow-up on the condition in distance learning. “But because we’re a small community, we have to take other things into consideration,” she said. She went on to explain that in addition to unvaccinated students, there are teachers who cannot be vaccinated and will have to make “medical exceptions” and be absent from school. “We can’t really get subscriptions to this school,” she said. Girardi also referred to the difficult task of “managing the building” with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the community and at school.
A community member exclaimed that the school board’s role is to teach, with Willy interfering that the school board’s role is to set policy. The community member went on, unchecked, to assert that because the school is funded by taxpayers and will be closed for 19 days (including regularly scheduled Christmas and weekends), the island’s citizens deserve a “tax write-off.” He described it as “taxes without
acting,” the community member further explained that it was “one’s right to die from covid,” and that she wanted a “lawsuit,” most likely because of all the pain the school was causing. After calling the committee a “lamb,” she left, wishing aloud that Have newspaper on hand to cover it.
Parents also asked how many cases have been confirmed at the Block Island school and whether the commission could disclose pods with positive cases. The supervisor said that due to the small size of the school, they were unable to provide this information. When the class size is from 2 to 13 [students]And you say you have a case, that determines [the infected students]. Wylie went on to explain that the school was following the advice of legal counsel on privacy rights. The lawyers told them that because the school was too small, information could not be shared. Wylie also stated that the “first priority” of the school board and management “is to keep the school open and to keep everyone safe.” .
At this time, there is no plan to continue distance learning after the break, as students are scheduled to return to class on January 3.