Sollitto: District can’t support full in-school return; RI start date delayed two weeks


BURRILLVILLE – Gov. Gina Raimondo has yet to announce the statewide plan for returning to schools, but no matter the choice, Burrillville can’t afford to support a full-time return for all students.

Supt. Michael Sollitto told members of the School Committee Tuesday, Aug. 11 that in order to meet the required safety standards, the district would have to hire 26 additional custodians in the next few weeks. Even after meeting with custodial staff to work out arrangements for extensive overtime and maximized schedules, Sollitto said Burrillville would need at least nine new hires to keep the schools fully cleaned and sanitized for kids in grades K through 12.

“We don’t have the resources,” Sollitto said. “It’s just not realistic.”

The assessment followed an announcement on Tuesday that Rhode Island will delay the start of schools until Monday, Sept. 14. State officials have also delayed by two weeks guidance regarding if districts should plan for a full return to in-person learning, a partial return, or instruction based entirely on a virtual distance model. Districts statewide submitted plans for the three potential options by the deadline of Friday, July 17.

“We have a lot of plans in place, but whether or not we can enact all those plans, I don’t know,” said Sollitto. “Every parent I’ve spoken to is concerned about this. We can’t give them any answers.”

Sollitto noted that it appears more likely that a partial return will be put in place statewide, with the focus on classroom learning for younger students. Burrillville’s hybrid plan to have older students in school for two days a week under the partial option, however, was not accepted.

“The feedback we got from the Rhode Island Department of Education is that they didn’t want us to do that,” Sollitto said.

The superintendent said that as of the meeting Tuesday night, 659 Burrillville students had signed up for distance learning, roughly 30 percent of the school population. The number to sign up at the elementary, middle and high school levels, he noted, was pretty evenly split.

The option to register to keep Burrillville students at home was set to close Tuesday night.

“The reason we’re closing that is we really need some time to schedule classes and set up bus routes,” Sollitto said. “The response for that has been really tremendous in the past couple of weeks.”

But under any circumstance, Sollitto said the district is unlikely to be able to staff all five Burrillville schools with custodians.

“I just don’t know if that’s realistic,” he said, adding of the state, “Unless they’re going to foot the bill for 26 custodians- they can’t tell us what to do. It’s not safe.”

Plans, meanwhile, were tentatively announced for athletics this week, with boys and girls cross country, tennis and cheerleading set to begin with the start of school. But the Rhode Island Interscholastic League has announced that other traditional fall sports, including volleyball, soccer, field hockey and football, will not take place.

Sollitto, who serves on RIIL’s Principal Committee on Athletics, noted that there’s discussion about offering an abridged season of the delayed sports in spring.

“If possible, they want to give those kids some type of season if they choose to play,” Sollitto said. “They’re shortening all of the seasons, but they’re really trying to get some type of athletics for kids.”

The plans are subject to change however, depending on if the state remains in, “phase 3,” of reopening. Final plans for athletics are expected to be announced on August 17.

Officials noted that distance learning will look different when schools reopen than it did during the last semester in spring. Kids will expected to be logged into the program during normal school hours, with assignments posted on Google Classroom.

“The schedule itself will mirror the school day at both the elementary and secondary levels,” Sollitto said.

Committee member Sylvia St. Pierre asked what will happen if the schools see an outbreak, a concern for which Sollitto said he’s been given a “playbook.”

“We know what’s happening in Georgia. Kids are getting sick,” St. Pierre said. “We’re still doing virtual meetings and yet we’re expecting kids to go into the classroom.”

“I share your concerns,” Sollitto responded.

Committee member Dorthy Cardon thanked district staff for their hard work in devising the plans.

“This is indeed a very, very difficult time for all of the Burrillville teachers students and parents,” Cardon said.

Sollitto said he plans to hold one more School Committee meeting, along with a second forum for parents, once full statewide plans are announced.

Editor’s note: An original version of this story attributed a quote to Committee member Terri Lacey that was said by member Sylvia St. Pierre. We apologize for the error. Clarifying language has also been added regarding plans for athletics.

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