More than a dozen community members spoke out against a full return to in-person classes in September during a virtual meeting of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, Monday night.

Teachers, parents and students said they largely felt uncomfortable with going back to a traditional school model in September. Several speakers encouraged limiting school to at least a mix of both online and in-person classes.

Last week, Rhode Island school districts submitted plans for several fall scenarios, including letting all students and teachers return to school buildings, with new cleaning and social distancing protocols.

But some teachers do not believe those new policies will be enough. 

“Distancing with 30 people in one room is just not possible when you consider the nature of children and of an elementary classroom,” said Elisheva Stark, a Providence public elementary school teacher. 

“I am afraid for my health, for the health of my students and families that my students would be bringing this virus home to.”

Speakers also objected to draft reopening proposals that require only limited use of masks, but stop short of mandating masks be worn at all times while in buildings. 

Districts across the state are planning for four different scenarios, ranging from a return to distance learning to fully reopening schools. The scenarios are roughly aligned with the level of community spread in the state, though which specific numbers will dictate which scenario is necessary is unclear. 

“I understand the fears,” said State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green on Monday. “We have an obligation to make sure learning happens under all and any conditions, but we will always let science and data drive our decision making. 

Education officials say that the RI Department of Health will have final say on which scenario schools will follow. That decision is not expected until August, but could come as late as the middle of the month. K-12 public schools are set to return Monday, August 31st.