RIDOH officials talk reopening schools with Education Commissioner

RHODE ISLAND (WLNE) – Governor Gina Raimondo is just days away from announcing how she wants each school district to reopen– whether virtually, in-person, or a combination of the two.

Ahead of that announcement, state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green held her weekly Facebook live on Thursday to discuss reopening schools. This week, she invited two of the state’s top doctors to join her: Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Director of Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), and Dr. Jim McDonald, Medical Director of RIDOH.

Together, they went over what in-person school may look like this year.

“Busing is going to look different this year,” said Dr. McDonald. “I would expect one student per row, so there’s less people on the bus. I would expect face masks. I would expect hand sanitizer to be available before you get on the bus and after you get off the bus.”

The doctors said it’s OK to have stable classroom pods with more than 15 students. The current limit for social gathering’s in the state is 15 people. But the doctors explained pods are safer than social gatherings because students will be wearing masks and social distancing, which is not always the case at social gatherings.

“[Pods] help decrease the chance of students mixing with multiple groups, or teachers mixing,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

However, a teacher in the Providence Public School District is worried about the lack of pods planned at the high school level.

“My concern is that in high school there is currently no plan to use stable groups,” said Maya Chavez, a civics teacher at Dr. George Alvarez High School. “So, I would be interacting with potentially over 100-140 students every two days at school. Which I think is disturbing given that we’re only supposed to be interacting with 15 people per the governor’s executive order.”

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said next week, the Department of Health will begin walk-through inspections of schools.

Education leaders worry that many of the buildings may not pass.

“There’s a big concern that’s emerging and expanding over air quality in a number of our schools that don’t have appropriate ventilation. Many don’t have functional windows,” said Frank Flynn, the President of Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. “We think it’s aspirational to believe we can begin school on the 14th at this point.”

Dr. McDonald advised parents to start talking to their children about mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing to prepare them for an eventual return to in-person learning.

“We need to normalize this, we’re living in a pandemic,” said Dr. McDonald.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Rhode Island