Providence released its 76-page reopening plan late last week, which lays out in greater detail the scenarios for reopening schools, from a full in-person return to limited in-person. Full distance learning is also a possibility for all schools in the state.

Governor Gina Raimondo along with the state Department of Health and education leaders will make a final determination for which scenario schools should follow. That decision is expected by mid-August. 

In the latest guidance from Providence, all students, from Kindergarten through 12th grade will be allowed to remain at home for the year no matter which reopening scenario the state determines. Those students will be part of something called a “virtual learning academy.” Other districts are providing similar offerings. The updated guidance from Providence clarifies who can opt out of in-person learning. Students do not need underlying medical conditions to qualify for the online classes. 

It does remain unclear how exactly the academy will be administered, though the district guidance says Providence teachers will conduct, or at least provide support for, the online classes. 

“Executing on these plans will require us to work together, to think and behave differently, to challenge the status quo, and to acknowledge that, at times, we might have to make tough trade-offs,” said Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters in an open letter at the opening of the new guidance.

In the case that a full return is not possible, students most in need of in-person instruction, including students with special education needs and homeless students, followed by the youngest children. The district may also stagger the start of the year, bringing back younger students and students in transition years, such as the sixth and ninth grades.

Further clarification comes in the guidance for face masks, which will be required for all staff and students at all times in the day, with only a few exceptions. Parents and teachers voiced concerns earlier in the month that guidance from the state often only recommended the wearing of masks in several settings. 

Teachers, parents and students are beginning to sift through newly released plans, and some concerns persist. 

Alvarez High School civics teacher Maya Chavez worries that high school teachers could still be exposed to large numbers of students even if schools move to rotating schedules. 

“You know some students would be there on A days, some students would be there on B days, but they would have the same teacher, and at the end of the day the teachers are still interacting with all the students,” Chavez said. 

Another concern is a requirement in the plans that students self-assess for symptoms before attending school, but, Chavez says, leaves questions about asymptomatic cases largely unanswered.  In the case that a symptomatic student is at a bus stop without a parent or guardian, that student will still be taken to school, enter the building, and isolate in a “sick room” until the student is picked up from school.

The district anticipates increased staffing needs, including bus monitors. The district anticipates federal stimulus money will be necessary to cover new costs associated with the reopening plans. 

By the time the school year begins, and even into the school year, all the reopening plans may need to shift, a caveat the Providence guidance clearly lays out. 

“A shift in public health conditions...may require a pause in brick-and-mortar instruction in order to reroute transportation and make other operational shifts…”