WARWICK, RI — The School Committee voted Tuesday to postpone a return to in-person instruction for the district’s students following a positive COVID-19 test result at Warwick Veterans Middle School.
On Oct. 2, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said Grade 1 students would return on Oct. 13. Grade 2 and 3 students would return on Oct. 14. Grades 4 and 5 would return on Oct. 15. Grade 6 students would be going to Veterans Middle School the week of Oct. 20.
The new schedule is as follows:
- Kindergarten will return on Oct. 14, 15, and 16.
- Grades one and two return on Oct. 20 and 21, along with kindergarten.
- Grade three returns on Oct. 26 and 27.
- Grade four returns on Oct. 29 and 30.
- Grade five will return on Nov. 4 and 5.
“We need more time to prepare,” Dambruch said. “We’re working on gathering substitutes. Every school has a plan for their school – mask breaks, breakfast, lunch, all the details. Arrival times, departure times, where the students will arrive, what would that look like. There are safety guidelines in place for every school. I still believe that we need to start getting our students back in school, especially kindergarten and first grade.”
Some committee members were worried that the reopening was happening too soon.
“Maybe we should have another week in between each grade,” said Vice-Chair Judy Cobden. “I think slow and safe would be a better approach. I don’t feel like this is going slow.”
“We were the first district to mandate mask wearing,” said member David Testa. “We did take (the pandemic) seriously. We are being responsible here.”
The committee voted 4-1 to return Grade 6 students to Warwick Vets for a hybrid model. Member Nathan Cornell was the lone no vote.
The air purifiers ordered by the district are expected to arrive on October 23.
Director of School Buildings and Maintenance Steven Gothberg said the HEPA filters would cost $750,000 and would be paid for with federal funds. Electrical modifications will be made to all the schools before the units are delivered. That process will last a week and a half.
There are 30 kindergarten classrooms which requires 60 units. For now, windows will remain open to allow for cross-ventilation.
Cobden was worried about leaving classroom windows open, which she felt would be compromising school security.
“Warwick (Police) are trained well,” said Superintendent Phil Thornton. “We have a fast response time.”
Jennifer Connelly, the Director of Special Services, told the committee there will be a delivery of 6100 KN95 masks, 19 goggles, 3500 gowns, 15,000 surgical masks, and 190,000 gloves in the next few weeks.
“That appears to be adequate, but we don’t know how quickly we will go through the PPE (personal protective equipment),” Connelly noted. “We don’t know how many students will be symptomatic. We don’t know how many times a day a nurse may need to change her KN95 mask or need to change her gown. It’s our best estimate.”
Classes are being held at the Career and Technical Center, and Drum Rock Elementary School. At the September 8 meeting, Thornton told the committee these schools are being used due to their air circulation systems.
Thornton told the school committee the installation of HEPA filters in the schools would be a “viable solution” to keeping schools safe from coronavirus.
The committee also approved a new contract with First Student for bus transportation.
Last June, the committee voted to cut $6 million for bus transportation due to a budget shortfall.
Only 22 students are allowed on each bus to comply with CDC guidelines. Each bus has seating for 72 students. Because of this, the district needs to purchase 14 buses, which will cost $1.3 million.
Anthony Ferrucci, the district’s Chief Budget Officer noted there was a shortage of bus drivers.
“As the bus drivers become available, we can get ready to roll those routes out,” Ferrucci added.