Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo told the Sun Rise on Monday the district would follow Gov. Gina Raimondo’s recommendation to have all students back in the classroom by Oct. 13.
The Sun Rise spoke with DiLullo shortly after Raimondo announced that every school district in the state with two exceptions – Providence and Central Falls – had been cleared to bring all students back to class.
Johnston presented three plans to the Rhode Island Department of Education, covering a full return, partial in-person return and a proposal that would include primarily distance learning. DiLullo has repeatedly favored a phased-in, partial return to start, and promised that all students would not be back on the first day of school, Sept. 14.
Raimondo endorsed the concept of districts phasing students in, and DiLullo said Johnston will likely bring a few grades back at a time to get them acclimated to the new standards. The governor noted in her presser that, while all students would be back, virtually every process from going to lockers to bathroom trips will be different.
“We’re looking at not having everybody in the building initially, and we’ll see how it goes building up that population,” DiLullo said. “I would like to think we can meet that goal, yes. I think it’s important for kids to be back in school. I think what we’ve learned with the distance learning is that it’s much more important for teachers to know the students, for the students to know the teachers, and that happens face to face as opposed to on a computer screen.”
Raimondo said that, in anticipation of schools reopening, a team comprised of members of the Department of Health, the National Guard and other state agencies would be roaming the state checking each building’s ventilation. She said it would be a “continuous audit process” that would continue throughout the year.
DiLullo said he doesn’t expect issues with the walkthroughs, which Johnston started on Tuesday.
“Luckily we got on that first schedule,” DiLullo said. “So we’ll see what the outcome is. I don’t anticipate major problems. All of our classrooms or most of our classrooms have windows. There are only two classrooms in the district that don’t have windows, they’re at the ECC, but the ECC is fully ventilated and air conditioned, so that should cover those classrooms.”
DiLullo said that every student will be required to wear a facemask, with classroom distancing of 6 feet and windows and doors remaining open. He said that most of the elementary school classrooms have air conditioning, and hallways have been marked to indicate traffic flow.
“Cleaning protocols will continue to be in place, so we’re not going to back off on those systems, where I’m putting kids in pods at the elementary school so they stay in their pod as well as at the middle school,” DiLullo said. “There’s a lot in place that we had planned for right off the bat and right off the bat, you heard the governor talk about the teams that come in and just give feedback on your setup.”
When asked about potential outbreaks, DiLullo said that if a student felt ill they would go to a separate area of the nurse’s office and their parents would be contacted immediately.
The district would then reach out to the Department of Health to figure out who else must be notified.
“It could be that they’re referred to their physicians for the question of whether or not testing should be performed,” DiLullo said. “If testing is performed and there is a positive case, we will follow the guidelines of the Department of Health in terms of contact tracing and notifying people who need to be notified regarding exposure.”
If students and parents are anxious, though, DiLullo did reiterate new Johnston High School Principal Donna Pennacchia’s reminder last week. If students want to continue to distance learn, the option is open to them.
“I think the proposal around a gradual opening is wise, and that’s certainly something I was saying early on in terms of that’s probably the way to go to test out the systems, to be able to ensure that you're going to be able to operate schools and the way they need to operate,” DiLullo said. “So going forward, I think what Johnston will be doing is taking up that type of plan.”