PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina Raimondo has announced that all public schools in Rhode Island will remain closed through at least April 3, and is rolling out a unique distance learning program beginning Monday that will see students getting their education from home.
The news came Wednesday on the tail of the discovery of 10 new cases of COVID 19 within 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to 33. By Thursday, the number would grow to 44. By Friday, it was 54 and Raimondo had activated the National Guard.
“I’ve decided this is the right step to take at this moment in time to assure some semblance of continuity in learning,” Raimondo said in announcing the program, believed to be the first of its kind in effort to curb spread of the virus. “Rhode Island is the only state doing this now. Let’s shine and see what we can do.”
The governor has asked districts across the state to submit a distance learning plan to the Department of Education by the deadline of Thursday, March 19.
Raimondo emphasized the need for parents to maintain schedules and structure to enforce the learning plan in their homes.
“This is not vacation,” she said. “We need you working as hard as you would on a regular school day.”
The governor also announced that she has issued an emergency order prohibiting all electric, gas, water and sewer companies governed by the Public Utilities Commission from terminating service for any reason other than for safety during the crisis.
“Nobody should have to worry about the lights going off,” said Raimondo noting that she has also ordered that no past due accounts will be sent to collection agencies for the time being.
“If you’re in a position to pay your bills, please pay your bills,” she said. “This is a time for good faith, good intentions and doing the right thing.”
Director of the state Department of Health Nicole Alexander Scott said that of the 10 new cases of COVID 19 in the state, 7 are male. Four have been hospitalized, while the others are recovering at home.
“These individuals have traveled to a number of locations,” Alexander Scott said.
The director has recommended that all gyms close for the time being. Hair salons, she said, can remain open but, “If you go and there is a large crowd, knowing how the virus spreads, you need to turn around and go back home.”
“We are asking everyone to sacrifice and to think about the well-being of Rhode Island as a community right now,” said Alexander Scott. “This is not an overreaction. This is information that should be taken seriously.”
Asked if schools are likely to reopen after April 3, Raimondo responded, “It’s unlikely. We’re taking this a day at a time.”
“We’re going to get through this but I don’t know how long it will be,” Raimondo said. “This is months, not weeks.”
“We wouldn’t be taking the action we’re taking if it wasn’t necessary,” Raimondo said. “We need to do everything we can to stay ahead of the virus so it doesn’t overtake us. We don’t think it’s safe to be opening schools and having kids go to school.”
Supt. Michael Sollitto said he submitted Burrillville’s distance learning plan to RIDE on Monday, March 16.
He addressed parents in letter this week.
“As you are all aware, we are facing an unprecedented challenge in public education across our nation,” Sollitto wrote. “The COVID 19 pandemic has thrown us into a remote learning environment with limited time to prepare, develop protocols or provide training to students and staff.”
Sollitto said he plans to send out details of Burrillville’s remote learning plan on Thursday, March 19. Monday, March 23 will serve as a professional development day for teachers with student instruction to begin on Tuesday, March 24.
Parents are instructed to email their child’s principal with any questions or concerns.
North Smithfield Supt. Michael St. Jean issued the following message to parents regarding the news:
Dear North Smithfield Families and Staff,
At noon today the Governor announced that all Rhode Island Public Schools will transition to Distance Learning for the next two weeks with a potential return date of Monday, April 6th at the earliest.
North Smithfield Schools has prepared for this and is ready to continue instruction and support our students and families during this time.
We are building a Distance Learning webpage at https://www.nsps.us/dl as a one stop shop for instructional information, resources, and support. Parents, you will find on this page a Distance Learning Parent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) with additional informational information to better inform and support you and you students.
Teachers, we are updating our Distance Learning Employee Guide which we will publish on the DL page and email to you directly.
All NSPS staff are fully committed to continuing instruction and to do the work that is needed to support our students and families during these challenging conditions. The past few weeks have seen among our teachers, staff, and administrators a release of creative energies and ideas as to how we can best serve our students in this evolving situation.
We do, however, ask for your patience and cooperation as we walk this path together. We will keep communications open and we assure you that we will be here for our students. Please, everyone remain healthy.
Michael St. Jean,
NRI NOW will update this story if more information becomes available.