DiLullo: District may not receive reopening guidance until Aug. 17

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Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo presented three possible school reopening plans to the School Committee during Tuesday’s meeting, saying that a Rhode Island Department of Education decision on the best path may not come until Aug. 17.

DiLullo used the bulk of his time to go through each of the choices: partial in-person, limited in-person and a full reopening. He said the first option is the “most doable with current restrictions in place,” adding that it would best address busing and spacing issues facing the district.

The logistics still need some finalizing, but DiLullo said students would be divided up by the first letter of their last name. In his example, students with the last name A-M would come to class on Tuesday and Thursday, while those with N-Z would attend Wednesday and Friday. Mondays would be distance learning for all students, as there are some planned professional development days slated for them, and it would allow the district to conduct a “thorough cleaning” of every building.

Preschool students, however, would be coming in every day except Monday, as he said, “we feel it’s important for them to have a constant schedule every week.”

DiLullo said parents and guardians will be asked to screen students at home for any symptoms, and the district will continue to stay in touch with phone blasts.

“The health and safety of our staff, students and families continues to be our top priority,” DiLullo said. “The goal remains to have students return to classrooms as safely as possible. Returning students to school is the best way for them to learn.”

DiLullo said there are “many barriers” to full in-person learning, especially having to keep them 3 to 6 feet apart in the classroom and restricting buses to half capacity. He said the financial costs of the latter would be significant with all students going to school at once.

If that is the course of action, though, DiLullo said students would be kept in pods over the course of the day, with limited hall and locker access to prevent crowds forming. He said the district is aiming to establish one-way hallway paths, but for some schools like Winsor Hill and Sarah Dyer Barnes, that isn’t possible.

“[They] have one hallway for example that goes through the middle of the school,” DiLullo said. “[So] putting a line down the middle to ensure students don’t go … across that line. The middle school operates as a team approach, rather than students moving from classroom to classroom, the teachers will move from classroom to classroom to minimize interaction.”

DiLullo said nurses have been working with maintenance staff to divide offices and separate students who may be exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms. Plans will be in place, too, for high-risk students and staff.

“Distance learning options will be offered for students who are vulnerable and may need to stay home,” DiLullo said. “Some vulnerable staff may as well. Numbers of buses will be have to be restricted and vulnerable staff may not return so we need to cover those classrooms if certain teachers do not come to school.”

DiLullo touched on limited in-person learning, which he said is “most restrictive” and involve substantial distance learning. He said RIDE and Gov. Gina Raimondo will provide feedback on the most prudent plan, but he warned the decision isn’t expected until Aug. 17. He said he is lobbying for an earlier advisement.

“That’s only two weeks before we start school,” DiLullo said. “So we’re pushing to get an earlier decision on what plan will be in place.”

Vice Chairman Joseph Rotella requested that the School Committee and district hold a town hall event to hear concerns from “everyone who’s a stakeholder in this.”

“Even though they keep moving the goalposts on us at a state level, we need a solid plan and everybody needs to be on board with it,” Rotella said. “I know that’s like trying to herd cats, but we need to make sure everyone is comfortable with this.”

Chairman Bob LaFazia advised sending out a survey to families to gauge the difficulty of bringing kids to school with limited busing in place.

“Would they be able to drop off children at schools?” LaFazia said. “Some parents are working or going back to work.”

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