St. Jean says prom, graduation will take place this year in North Smithfield

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – With the final group of students who want to be in the classroom expected to begin four days a week of in-person learning starting next week, Supt. Michael St. Jean says that traditional large-scale spring events, including graduation and proms, will take place in North Smithfield in 2021.

Such events were mostly cancelled – or were subject to extreme limitations – when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the region last spring.

District schools have ramped up face-to-face education in recent weeks, eliminating the hybrid model of learning with students in 7th, 10th and 11th grade returning for additional time in the classroom. Next week, 8th graders are also scheduled to increase their time in North Smithfield schools.

“Every grade level from Pre-K to 12 will be back to four days a week,” St. Jean said, noting that a smaller group of students with ongoing health concerns have chosen to remain on full distance learning.

District officials are also reportedly looking at the possibility of students returning on Mondays – which have been scheduled as distance learning days for all grade levels since fall. But between holidays that land on Mondays, and days set aside for state testing, St. Jean said that not many of the student’s remaining school days would be affected.

“There aren’t really that many open Mondays,” he said.

The superintendent said several things have made the changes possible, including a town-run vaccination clinic offered to all district staff, which was also extended to kitchen workers and bus monitors.

“It was quick. It was smooth. It was happy,” St. Jean said of the clinic. “It was a really good, efficient, very positive experience.”

He said policies implemented at all town schools have also made the increased attendance possible.

“A lot of it has to do with the good practices we have in place,” St. Jean said. “Because everyone is following the rules, it’s giving us that extra comfort level. Everyone wears a mask. We clean. We wash hands. We have good ventilation.”

A few of the district’s remaining concerns, including restrictions on bussing, and shortfalls on the recommended distance between students, are in the process of changing, he noted. The Rhode Island Department of Health is expected to lift some of the limitations on school bus travel in the coming weeks, and recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has decreased the recommendation for distance between students at K-12 schools from six to three feet.

“Studies are showing that three feet is ok,” said St. Jean.

Still, it seems that three classes at North Smithfield Elementary School were on full quarantine last week.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” St. Jean said. “Covid is still very real. If we let our guard down, we could be undoing some of this good work.”

At a meeting this week with members of the School Committee, St. Jean said that in light of the district’s progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19, events, including graduation and junior and senior proms, are now in the planning stages, and expected to go on this year.

“We will be able to do this, with spring events, including a prom,” he said, noting that the district will still need to take precautions, the details of which have not yet been released. “There’s a lot of hoops to jump through.”

More information on plans for spring events is expected in the upcoming months.

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