Bristol Warren schools reopening to all students, all days

District ends hybrid system, will begin bringing students back full-time

By Ted Hayes
Posted 4/14/21

Things will seem closer to normal than they have in more than a year, when the Bristol Warren Regional School District welcomes many of its students back to full, in-person learning over the next …

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Bristol Warren schools reopening to all students, all days

District ends hybrid system, will begin bringing students back full-time

Posted

Things will seem closer to normal than they have in more than a year, when the Bristol Warren Regional School District welcomes many of its students back to full, in-person learning over the next three weeks.

Middle and high school students have not been in school full-time since last March, but Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jonathan Brice laid out his plan for a return to some normalcy Monday evening, telling members of the school committee that he is confident the district is taking the right steps to keep students and staff healthy. In all, he said, hundreds of students who previously were on the distance or hybrid learning models (meaning they have been learning from home full-time or part-time), and whose parents approved their return, will start coming back into buildings full-time this Friday and should all be back in school by Monday, May 3.

“I think we're in a good place,” the superintendent said after Monday night's meeting.

Approximately 88 elementary school students previously on the distance learning model will return to their schools full-time on Thursday, April 15. More than 500 Kickemuit Middle School students previously on the distance or hybrid models will return to the building full-time on Monday, April 26. And Mt. Hope students previously on the distance or hybrid models will come back in two phases; the first ending on Friday, April 16, and the second between Tuesday and Wednesday, April 27 and 28, following April vacation.

Dr. Brice did not estimate the number of high school students who will return, but said it will be a sizable number. He said he should know the number after he receives additional paperwork from the high school next week.

So-called hybrid learners, those Kickemuit and Mt. Hope High School students who to this point have spent three days per week learning from home and two learning in-person, account for roughly two thirds of the population of each school. Dr. Brice said there has been relatively little pushback from parents who are uncomfortable with the two remaining choices of full distance or full in-person learning.

“I think it's because the students are older, and I think the students are ready to come back, and the parents are ready for them to come back,” he said. “In the five e-mails I've had, we found a way to work it out or (Mt. Hope Principal Dr. Deb DiBiase has) resolved them.”

While he said the hybrid model will still technically continue, it will be on an extremely limited basis, handled case by case, Dr. Brice said.

Desks moving closer together

When they do return, students will see the easing of some, but not all, restrictions previously imposed by the state departments of health and education. While most mask, cleaning and ventilation requirements remain in place, the most significant change is that desks which were previously required to be six feet apart will now have a three-foot minimum spacing rule, per state guidelines.

While most schools will see that three-foot limit, some classrooms could have spacing of four or more feet, based on the number of students enrolled in a class and the physical space in the classroom. While Dr. Brice acknowledged that putting students closer together could cause an increase in the number of students and staff forced to quarantine after being a 'close contact' to someone who has contracted Covid-19, “it does not necessarily mean that more students will be infected.”

In addition, he said the district is choosing the longer of two quarantine terms allowed by state guidelines. Those who need to quarantine must continue to do so for 10 days, not seven days as allowed under a different state quarantine option offered by the state.

Not all of the state's minimum guidelines are being heeded. While the state will now allow districts to seat students as little as three feet apart at lunch, Dr. Brice said Bristol Warren’s plan is to keep the six-foot separation currently in place through the end of the school year.

“Our focus has always been on maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff,” he said. “I still believe that six feet of distance is the gold standard and is something that we should do with all of our students.”

A return to buses

For most of the year, bus capacity has been severely limited. Going forward, standard buses can now transport up to 58 students, and those riding must be screened, accounted for and sit in assigned seats. Doing so will allow district officials to analyze who was in close contact with a Covid-positive rider, setting quarantine protocols in place.

Mt. Hope Principal Dr. Deb DiBiase said her staff has been preparing for the return of distance and hybrid learners for some time. She said Monday night that she is excited to have more students in school, and believes the district's largest school is ready to go:

“Right now we feel like we’re in a pretty good place,” she said, adding that about 75 percent of the school’s population will be back in person by the beginning of May.

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