N.S. schools end hybrid learning despite some distancing concerns

All district staff offered vaccine appointments at Friday clinic

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield School District has begun the process of ending hybrid instruction, with all students to either attend classes four days a week, or finish the year virtually from home.

The decision comes despite the fact that students and staff will not be able to maintain six feet of distance in all locations, according to school officials.

But some concerns, it seems, may be tempered following a vaccination clinic on Friday dedicated to district staff.

Parents learned of the change in a letter this week from Supt. Michael St. Jean.

“We will be returning our remaining hybrid grade levels – 7, 8, 10, 11 – to four days a week in-person instruction beginning with Grade 7, which will return to four days a week instruction starting Tuesday March 16th,” wrote St. Jean in a communication to parents on Tuesday, March 9. “We will shortly announce a schedule for grades 8, 10, and 11 to end Hybrid scheduling.”

“Students will either attend classes in-person or at-home Tuesday – Friday,” St. Jean added. “We ask that you commit to one or the other as we can’t have students moving back between the two unless they are under quarantine.”

In preparation for the return on more students, Friday, March 12 will be a distance learning day for all North Smithfield schools as district employees, bus drivers and monitors, kitchen workers, coaches, and “everyone that works with our children,” will have the option to receive vaccination at the joint North Smithfield/Woonsocket clinic, according to St. Jean.

The superintendent noted that bussing remains a concern, and that some routes may need to be adjusted. Those with access to alternate transportation to and/or from school are being asked to use it.

Currently, buses in Rhode Island are limited to 50 percent capacity, a restriction St. Jean noted could change under guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the Rhode Island Department of Health in the coming weeks. The restrictions set buses at just 36 students, a limit he noted many buses serving students at North Smithfield Elementary School have already hit.

Mondays will remain a distance learning day, and will also be used as an opportunity for statewide testing, along with the previously scheduled professional development days and holidays.

The change means that at-home learning – which previous allowed students to attend virtually from home – will only be available as a, “full-time parental choice due to a medical need or health concern, or when a student must quarantine.”

School officials discussed the issue of students misusing the remote learning option, resulting in low attendance, at a meeting last month.

“It was never intended to be used as a convenience,” St. Jean wrote.

“We will still have students and classrooms moving in and out of quarantine,” he noted. “While we ask for a commitment, we understand that as more parents and relatives, who live in the same household as our students, receive their vaccinations, the risk to them is lowered and they will want their students to return to in-person learning.”

St. Jean noted that with the return of full-time at-home students and the remaining hybrid grade levels, students will be sitting closer in classrooms and in the cafeteria.

“We cannot maintain the recommended six feet of separation in every location,” he wrote. “Fortunately, our schools have good ventilation and our mask-wearing, handwashing, and cleaning protocols are effective.  Additionally, as the weather gets warmer, we will move more activities outside.”

St. Jean said that specific school-related questions should be directed to each school’s respective administration.

“Here’s to looking at the light at the end of the tunnel and finishing this year strong and together,” said St. Jean.

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