PORTSMOUTH — More than a year after a pandemic forced schools to move its classes online, a return to full, in-person learning will be made available to all public school students starting …
PORTSMOUTH — More than a year after a pandemic forced schools to move its classes online, a return to full, in-person learning will be made available to all public school students starting April 26.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Kenworthy made the announcement during a School Committee meeting on Tuesday, which marked the one-year anniversary of the district’s closing of school buildings and switch to distance learning.
For months now, the district has been offering full, in-person teaching every day for children attending pre-school through grade 6, while those in grades 7 through 12 have been operating on a hybrid schedule (some days in school, some at home) that the district has been trying to expand incrementally.
“Over the past few weeks, staff at Portsmouth Middle School and Portsmouth High School have worked on final challenges and have started transitioning many students in these grades back,” Mr. Kenworthy said. “So, we anticipate we’ll be fully transitioned by that return from April break. Of course, we will be keeping all other mitigation measures such as masking, additional cleaning protocols, symptom screening and many others, in full effect.”
Families still have the choice to keep students learning from home, however.
“For the remainder of this year, we do plan to offer full in-person, hybrid and distance learning opportunities to make sure that families will have those options as we finish out the school year,” the superintendent said.
“Yay!” exclaimed Committee Chairwoman Emily Copeland, who then asked about busing. Mr. Kenworthy said “busing is definitely the last challenge,” especially at the middle school. He expects to see some guidance from the R.I. Department of Education on this matter soon.
Spectator rules relaxed?
In other news, Mr. Kenworthy said the R.I. Interscholastic League, in coordination with the R.I. Department of Health, will be relaxing the restrictions on spectators at school sporting events that were in place for season two.
“In season three, we know that both the high school and middle school will be allowing a limited number of spectators per family for each season-three athlete,” he said.
Vaccines for staff
More than 120 district staff members participated in the municipal vaccine clinic last week, the superintendent said.
“Those individuals will have their second and final dose in a few weeks,” he added. “That number is in addition to many other staff members that I know who were able to secure appointments through local pharmacies and state-run sites.”
Mr. Kenworthy said he anticipated that the majority of the district staff “will be fully vaccinated by April break.”
The committee voted unanimously to follow Mr. Diluro’s recommendation to award a five-year school bus transportation contract to First Student, Inc., the current provider.
The district originally went out to bid last year, but withdrew its request for proposals (RFP) due to the pandemic, and instead extended its five-year contract with First Student by one year. That agreement expires at the end of this school year.
The district issued an RFP on Dec. 15, 2020, and two bids were opened on Feb. 23 of this year. First Student was the low bidder with a year-one cost of $2,210,986.32. The other bid was from Durham School Services.
“In the new proposal, buses can be no older than five years to start the contract and no older than 10 to end the contract,” Mr. Diluro said.
The committee voted unanimously to make a $1,500 donation to the Parents Helping Students Organization (PHSO) toward the annual post-prom party it throws for PHS students following their senior prom. This year's prom is scheduled for June 9.
The goal is to give students a safe place where they can go after the prom. The event features activities, food, and door prizes that get better as the night goes on.
“We are hopeful and optimistic that the Class of 2021 is going to have a prom, so with that comes a post-prom,” Amy Buddemeyer of PHSO’s Post-Prom Committee told the committee. “Any time I talk about graduation or prom, I get very choked up and very emotional, so I’m going to apologize ahead of time if I start to cry. It’s been a very emotional year.”
There are about 225 members of the senior class and they’re all welcome to the event whether they attend the actual prom or not.
The group’s first choice is to host the party at the Glen Manor House, where it was held in 2019. Plan B would be to move it outside, possibly at Glen Park — “Kind of like their class picnic; we would take it over,” Ms. Buddemeyer said.
The “worse-case scenario,” she said, would be to follow what the Class of 2020 did: Denied a senior prom, students chose to meet for a one-year reunion sometime this year.
“But I know that is not what the kids want,” Ms. Buddemeyer said. “They want something. They want to be celebrated. They want to be with each other.”
“I think everyone is hoping that the numbers keep going down as the vaccinations go up,” said Ms. Copeland. “Hopefully they’ll have something to look forward to.”
The board normally donates $1,000 toward the post-prom efforts, but committee member Frederick Faerber III suggested upping the amount to $1,500 since the donation has remained the same for at least eight years now. The others agreed. The funds will come from the School Committee’s budget line item.