Omicron spike, impending storm temporarily sends East Providence schools to virtual instruction

Superintendent said the aim is to keep buildings open, though case numbers may force admins' hands

By Mike Rego
Posted 1/6/22

EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence School Department will go virtual for at least the next two days, though it could be longer as the number of those students and staff testing positive for …

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Omicron spike, impending storm temporarily sends East Providence schools to virtual instruction

Superintendent said the aim is to keep buildings open, though case numbers may force admins' hands

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence School Department will go virtual for at least the next two days, though it could be longer as the number of those students and staff testing positive for the COVID-19 omicron variant rises rapidly within the district.

Superintendent Kathryn Crowley announced the decision mid-morning, Thursday, Jan. 6. Classes the following day, January 7, are also going virtual in part because of the anticipated weather. Forecasters were predicting between six and eight inches of snow for the early morning hours to noon Friday.

Crowley made the decision to also go virtual on Monday, Jan. 10, because of how many pupils and personnel have been hit by omicron.

The superintendent said East Providence, obviously, is not alone in dealing with the surge in cases, especially around the extended Christmas and New Year holiday recent  recess. The district was impacted less so around the shorter Thanksgiving break.

A total of 161 staff members were absent on Thursday, Jan. 6, or nearly a quarter of the some 800 total number of district employees, including teachers, aides and maintenance workers.

The student figures are just as striking. Crowley said the absentee rate in every school for the current week was averaging at least 20 percent. She said the high school rate has reached a third.

“We’re going virtual due to staffing issues, student attendance and for Friday because of the snowstorm,” Crowley said. “We’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth.”

The superintendent said the aim is to continue to hold in-person instruction, though she conceded it may not be possible in the short term.

Crowley noted the recent change in quarantine time for positive cases, from 10 days down to five, suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) may help in some way.

“We’re hoping to get more staff back from quarantine on Tuesday,” Crowley said, referring to the expected return to buildings on January 11. “It looks like we can now based on the CDC changes and when some of the staff went out. The five-day (quarantine) instead of 10 may help us if more people don’t test positive before then.”

The situation has been especially taxing on school nurses, whom Crowley lauded for their efforts throughout the pandemic. She said those administrators who were trained in testing procedures previously have once again been tasked to assist nurses in the process.

Crowley, herself, is administering tests on staff at the high school, leaving the nurses to focus on students. Assistant Superintendent Sandy Forand, at Martin Middle School. and all building principals, including Rob Perry at Riverside Middle, are doing the same.

“We’re all pitching in,” said Crowley, who added of maintaining in-person instruction, “I do want to keep buildings open, but realistically I may not be able to.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.