Governor Dan McKee, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, today released guidance for Rhode Island schools to safely return to full in-person learning this fall. State departments, including the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), will provide Local Education Agencies (LEAs) with support, tools, an open line of communication regarding local and national health and safety guidance, and other critical information required to make informed decisions for a responsible and successful reopening of school facilities for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“One of our team’s top priorities has been getting students safely and fully back into the classroom this fall. That’s why we worked hard to quickly vaccinate our teachers and school staff and it’s why we’re laser-focused on getting students vaccinated over the summer,” said Governor Dan McKee. “The guidance we’re announcing today coupled with strong vaccination rates put Rhode Island in a good place to ensure our students can be back in school where they learn best. I’m thankful to RIDE, RIDOH, and all members of our school communities for their work to make this full school reopening happen.”
“In partnership with our incredible superintendents, school leaders, teachers, support staff and public health officials, we look forward to welcoming all students back to the classroom in the fall,” said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “It is crucial that we accelerate learning across the state, and we know there is no substitute for in-person learning. Rhode Island led the way in distance learning and safely transitioned to the classroom in the midst of a pandemic, and we will continue our collaboration to keep students safe and help them grow as we work to move past COVID-19.”
“The deliberate, science-based approach we are taking to the return to in-person learning in the fall will help us give every student in every ZIP code in Rhode Island an opportunity to thrive in the classroom,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “Building on a year and a half of unprecedented partnership, we are going to be providing school communities with on-going support and making sure that families and eligible students have every opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19 between now and the first day of school.”
As a result of the state’s robust public vaccination operations and outreach, to date nearly 90% of Rhode Island teachers and school staff are fully vaccinated. Approximately 60% of Rhode Islanders ages 16-18 and more than 40% of those ages 12-15 are fully vaccinated. The guidance issued today considers the wide availability of vaccines, increased access to COVID-19 testing, and stabilizing infection rates across the state.
State leaders announced that LEAs will no longer be required to provide a distance learning option for students. LEAs will still need to develop plans to ensure services and educational programming will be provided if a student must remain home for short periods of time due to illness, isolation, or quarantine. Schools may continue to utilize distance learning opportunities (such as distance learning courses outside of traditional school hours) for select groups of students as appropriate at their discretion. RIDE will also review requests from LEAs that want to implement full virtual learning days for all students in the district such as a virtual snow day. Families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness, including those with special healthcare needs or who live with people at high risk, are encouraged to reach out to their district and to review their Health Plan, 504 Plan, and/or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
The State will continue to recommend stable groups of students whenever possible, especially in grade levels with students who are not yet eligible for full vaccination. Physical distancing will not be required for stable groups or grade levels eligible for full vaccination. However, 3-feet of spacing for indoor activities in shared spaces will be recommended for non-stable elementary school groups and age groups that are not eligible for full vaccination. Outdoor dining and learning experiences are encouraged and seating charts will continue to be recommended for classrooms and school busses.
For school transportation, there will be no busing capacity restrictions in the fall. State officials will continue to recommend distance between riders, keeping stable bus groups together as much as possible, and designing and implementing seating charts with assigned seats. This guidance is in alignment with the guidance of other states. Face coverings are required by federal order on school buses and other forms of public transportation in the U.S., and will therefore continue to be mandated until further notice.
The State strongly recommends that LEAs establish masking policies requiring all unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask while indoors. Mask use may be optional for individuals who are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated staff members will not need to wear a mask indoors. Currently mask use is not required outdoors in Rhode Island.
Field trips can resume as long as the necessary COVID-19 health and safety policies are met. Stable groups should remain consistent during field trips; the same classroom groups should participate as a stable group in field trip activities as much as possible.
For quarantine length, the agencies will consider case and vaccination rates while prioritizing the importance of in-person learning for students. The State will recommend a “7 day with testing” quarantine requirement, which takes into account minimal disruption to students’ education and to families’ lives. Under this recommendation, close contact individuals can return to school on day 8 with a negative test. RIDOH may recommend longer quarantine lengths in certain situations. Quarantine decisions will be made by RIDOH based on the layout of classrooms and the ability to determine close contacts. For example, if there is a positive case within a stable pod, it is likely that the entire stable pod will need to quarantine if no physical distancing was done. If students share an outdoor space such as for recess, case investigation will be done at the individual level to try to determine close contacts. If students maintain consistent physical distancing while inside, only close contacts who are not vaccinated will be quarantined.
The 2021-22 school year guidance can be found on Back2SchoolRI.com. This website will be updated throughout the summer with the latest updates and resources on the return to school. The current guidance may be revised once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases their recommendations for K-12 reopening this fall.
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