See more of our coronavirus coverage, including community resources and personal stories.

More than 140,000 school students will continue learning through online classes, a process that has shown both how flexible and cumbersome typical public education can be. 

Governor Gina Raimondo said she’d hoped to be able to reopen school buildings, at least for the last few weeks of the school year. 

“The reality is I can’t.” Raimondo said. “To take that much risk would be the wrong decision for all the people of Rhode Island.”

Raimondo said Thursday that such a move would have been irresponsible. COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state, with more than 400 cases announced Thursday, and eight more fatalities. Rhode Island has yet to reach its expected peak. 

“It’s not been a decision that’s been an easy one for me,” Raimondo said.“First let me acknowledge: distance learning is not easy.”

For the last month, parents, teachers and their students have been adapting to remote learning. Parents have taken the dual responsibility of household-running and home-schooling. Teachers are replicating classes online, and trying to make contact with students lost in the shuffle. And students have been forced to adapt to learning at home, suffering the loss of school, peers and the rituals of spring semester, like school proms.

Still, the system has proven surprisingly flexible. According to the Governor, after weeks of handing out laptops and providing free internet, nearly every student is connected to school. The state estimated some 500 students were still without the technology they needed as of last week. 

Participation rates have been remarkably high. Some schools have reported 100 percent attendance for days on end, and statewide more than 90 percent of all students regularly log onto classes. While this may mean students are present, teachers worry about the quality of the education they can provide online, and how much students are really paying attention. 

Already education leaders are bracing for some lost learning during this time. State standardized testing won’t be happening. The state’s largest teachers union has pushed for changing or getting rid of teacher evaluations for the year. 

State education commissioner Angelica Infante-Green’s office has encouraged the use of pass-fail grading where applicable, and has said she doesn’t want distance learning to stand in the way of a student moving onto another grade. 

“We’re going to work overtime to make sure that summer learning is as good as it can be, and then of course we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we’re ready for September” Raimondo said.

Details about extra academic support are expected in the coming months. The state education department recently released statewide guidance for distance learning, and will soon put out a school calendar for May and June, providing time for teacher planning and professional development.

Governor Raimondo also acknowledged the graduating high school seniors across the state, assuring them they would be recognized in some public fashion. Rhode Island PBS will be airing a television program highlighting the senior class later this year. 

Raimondo also took time, as she does frequently, to urge people in need of mental health services to seek out help. Mental health counselors working in the schools are worried about the effects of distance learning and social isolation on young people across the country. "

Don’t be shy to reach out,” Raimondo said. “There’s not a person out there in Rhode Island that’s not struggling with what’s going on.”