All public schools in the state will be closed for the upcoming week in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. At the start of the outbreak state officials said school closures on a wide scale were unlikely. The state department of education was leaving decisions to close up to individual districts. 

But as states and districts around the country moved to close schools this week, Rhode Island followed suit. 

“If we [close buildings] school by school, that defeats the purpose,” said State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green. “We want everyone to be at home. It’s really important that we’re all doing this simultaneously.” 

The decision followed the announcement that nine new cases of the virus have appeared in Rhode Island, bringing the total in the state to 14. Of the new cases, three are children.

One new case is a student at Cranston West high school, which serves about 1,500 students. Another new case is a second grade student at Springbrook Elementary School.

All staff and students at both schools are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days, effectively closing the school for one week longer than other public schools. 

All schools in Rhode Island will use vacation days meant for April vacation over the next week, beginning March 16th. That means they will not be required to make up the days at the end of the year. That also means schools will not face the stress test of online classes just yet. 

Over the coming days, teachers and staff are required to hammer out virtual learning plans. The state education department is asking for those by Thursday.

Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott asked that students not travel, or gather during the week, as it would defeat the purpose of the closure. Scott also called on private schools to comply, though the state cannot require them to do so.

St. Raphael Academy, a private Catholic school in Pawtucket, was set to reopen next week after two weeks of closure following a self-quarantine related to the earliest cases of the virus in the state. Now the school will remain closed for the coming week.

State education officials say it is too early to tell whether the state will givehand decision making power over school closures back to the districts after the weeklong shutdown.

School closures have been more piecemeal in Massachusetts, where the governor has not called for a blanket shutdown. Public schools in nearby New Bedford will be closed until at least March 23rd.

Daycare centers will remain open in Rhode Island. Governor Gina Raimondo said such facilities are typically smaller than K-12 schools, and are easier to monitor. She also cited the necessity for such facilities to workers who cannot take time off, including frontline workers and those in the medical profession.

With reporting by Joe Tasca