The Bristol Warren school plan: Older students stay home half the time

The Bristol Warren school district unveiled its robust plan for opening up and keeping everyone as safe as possible

By Scott Pickering
Posted 7/23/20

It’s getting redundant to say everything will be different, but when it comes to public education in the fall, everything will be different. Assuming things move forward as planned — and …

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The Bristol Warren school plan: Older students stay home half the time

The Bristol Warren school district unveiled its robust plan for opening up and keeping everyone as safe as possible

Posted

It’s getting redundant to say everything will be different, but when it comes to public education in the fall, everything will be different. Assuming things move forward as planned — and with Covid-19 and the wild cards of state executive orders, health department regulations and a teachers’ union that is waiting to see where this all goes, nothing is set in stone — the Bristol Warren Regional School District has a plan for the coming school year.

The local district, along with every public school district in Rhode Island, submitted its 2020 reopening plan to the state Department of Education last week and simultaneously released it to the public.

Assuming students and teachers go back into school buildings at the end of August for the first time since early March, they will be making a daily attestation that they have no symptoms of Covid-19 or any other illness, they will be wearing masks part (or all) of their day, fewer than half will be riding a bus, and they will be seeing a lot of the same people every day.

The Bristol Warren plan calls for the youngest students (K to 5) and students from vulnerable populations (special needs or English-language learners) to go into a school building every day, but middle and high school students will be in a building only half the time, and home half the time. That’s because the district has determined it cannot create enough space — keeping desks, work spaces and people six feet apart at all times in every classroom in every building — unless it reduces the population inside Kickemuit Middle School and Mt. Hope High School by at least 50 percent. It believes it can achieve this goal at the elementary schools.

And all of this is contingent upon the state allowing schools to fully open to students and staff, as currently expected. If health trends or state protocols change and schools are forced to reduce their populations further, there are contingency plans to keep a majority of students home a majority of the time, and bring them to school only 25 percent of the time.

And lastly, if it all goes really badly, then the fallback plan is familiar to everyone, since they experienced it from March through June — full distance learning, with everybody at home, taking classes via laptops.

The Bristol Warren district is also giving any family the option of keeping their child home for a full distance-learning program. If they choose this option, they must commit to it for the first trimester or first quarter of the school year.

So what will it look like in the fall, assuming all goes as planned and school buildings reopen per the plan as it stands today? The best way to understand is to follow along, school by school.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

A self-attestation

Everyone entering a building in the fall must file a self-attestation that they are symptom-free. This can be done electronically, daily, most likely through an app or electronic form.

Wearing masks

Students and staff are required to wear masks or face-coverings as they enter or exit buildings, walk in hallways or common areas, or interact with anyone not in their ‘stable group’ (more on those below). Masks will be provided for free if anyone needs them.

Riding the bus

First and foremost, the district does not want anyone riding a bus if they don’t have to. They’re asking families to register for bus transportation “only if it is absolutely essential.”

They’re trying to reduce bus ridership from its typical 60 or more students per bus to no more than 21 to 24 students.

There will be additional staff on the buses to ensure everyone follows the rules (those will be new hires). Everyone getting on the bus will be given hand sanitizer. Everyone must wear a mask at all times. Adults will instruct everyone where to sit and when to get off. And everyone will enter from the front of the bus and disembark from the back of the bus.

Stable groups

Students and staff will be organized into “stable groups” of no more than 30 people who stay together through most of the day, in the same room or a limited number of rooms. Once they are within their groups — meaning in a classroom, with appropriate distancing of desks and works spaces — students will be allowed to remove their masks, if they choose. Staff members will also have the option of removing their masks when they are able to remain with a consistent, stable group.

Teachers who work throughout the building — art or music teachers, learning specialists, special educators, etc. — will rotate into classrooms while the “stable groups” remain in place. These teachers will not be able to remove their masks throughout the day.

Cleaning and sanitizing

Custodial staff will be cleaning and disinfecting common areas throughout the day, such as restrooms, playground equipment and outdoor classrooms. High-touch areas are expected to be cleaned on an hourly basis.

Everyone will be asked to sanitize their hands as they enter the building, and to wash their hands at least four times per day. The district expects there will be numerous overtime opportunities for custodial staff, and they expect to hire more custodians.

Health and Isolation rooms

Every school will have a designated “isolation room” for students who show any symptoms. In addition, the district expects to hire additional “health techs” to assist school nurses with the management of student and staff populations.

 

MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL

Everything above involving masks, buses, sanitizing, etc. will be the same at both the middle school and the high school. But the rest of the program will be dramatically different.

Partial In-Person

This will be the starting point for educational programs at Kickemuit and Mt. Hope. They will begin the year with two groups of students, organized alphabetically, who attend school in the building only half the time. Note: there will actually be three groups — the two groups attending school in-person and the third group of students, whose families choose the full distance-learning option and are working from home five days a week.

In this model, Group 1 students go into the school every Tuesday and Wednesday. Group 2 students go into the school every Thursday and Friday. They alternate Mondays. On a side note, a new statewide school calendar puts a majority of Professional Development days on Mondays, which when combined with traditional Monday holidays, will mean students don’t actually go into schools about half the Mondays throughout the school year.

This model (which will be the opening model a little more than a month from now) requires teachers to simultaneously instruct half their class in person, while the other half of students are watching and following along on their Chromebooks at home.

IF THINGS CHANGE …

Limited In-Person

If the state decides to reduce school populations further than the current plan, Bristol Warren would adopt its “Limited In-Person Instruction” model. In this scenario, K to 5 students would be organized into stable groups of 12 to 13 students, and each class would be split into two groups. The first half of the class would go into the school Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The second half would go Thursdays and Fridays. And everyone would stay home on Mondays for a “virtual support” day, meaning students are working virtually and teachers are available to provide personalized, individualized or small-group instruction.

At the middle and high school level (Grades 6 to 12), students would go to school 25 percent of the time and remain at home 75 percent of the time. Practically speaking, this means that most weeks they would go into the building one day per week, and every four weeks, they would go into the building two days in a week.

A new schedule

To make all this work, and to allow more time for transportation, the district has changed its start and end times for the 2020-’21 school year (see below).

The district submitted its plan — prepared by a team of more than 50 teachers and administrators — to the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) last Friday, and it is supposed to be reviewed for feedback by RIDE by the end of July. Then it will spend the final month of the summer getting prepared to enter the new reality of public education in 2020.

New School Times

Mt. Hope High School

  • Start: 7:45 a.m.
  • End: 2:25 p.m.

Kickemuit Middle School

  • Start: 8:30 a.m.
  • End: 3 p.m.

Elementary Schools

  • Start: 9:15 a.m.
  • End: 3:30 p.m.

See a complete synopsis of the Bristol Warren Regional School District Reopening Plan here.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.