On Friday, July 31, the Providence Public School District published “Reopening Strong,” a 75-page reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year. The draft plan, which will continue to be refined as the district approaches the first day of school on August 31, includes details on learning scenarios, health and safety protocols, social-emotional supports and key logistics for families and staff.

“Our plan prioritizes in-person learning and is designed to be flexible, so that we may move between scenarios according to the latest science and data,” said PPSD Superintendent Harrison Peters. “Above all else, we put the safety and wellness of our school communities first. Our decisions will continue to be informed by the latest guidance from the Rhode Island Departments of Health and Education.”

Peters continued, “Reopening Strong is built on the principle of equity. The school district is committed to providing high-quality programming for all students and prioritizing students most impacted by educational inequities and COVID-19, including our youngest learners, students in transition grades, multilingual learners and students who are differently abled. “

Learning scenarios

In line with guidance from RIDE, the district has proposed four distinct learning scenarios, dependent on the current state of public health: full in-person learning, partial in-person learning, limited in-person learning and full distance learning.

In the partial scenario, students in grades PK-5 and educationally vulnerable students will attend school full time. Students in grades 6-12 will follow a hybrid schedule, in which a school population is split in two, and the different groups switch between distance learning and in-person learning, ensuring that only 50 percent of the school population is in the building at one time.

In the limited scenario, students in grades PK-10 and educationally vulnerable students will follow a hybrid schedule, while students in grades 11-12 will follow a distance learning model.

Educationally vulnerable students include students who are differently abled and are taught in self-contained special education classrooms; multilingual learners taught in newcomer programs; and homeless, migrant or at-risk students.

Reopening Academy

During the first week, all returning students will benefit from a new, start-of-school Reopening Academy, with a special social-emotional learning curriculum designed to help them process the events of the past six months. The academy will also focus on practicing safety and operational routines and technology tools and rebuilding academic habits.

Virtual Learning Academy

The Providence Public School District is planning a Virtual Learning Academy for families needing or requesting a full distance learning option as a result of the pandemic. The Virtual Learning Academy will be 100-percent remote and maintain grade-level learning for the 2020-2021 school year. In grades K-8, students will have access to the same high-quality instructional materials, course offerings and programming that they would in their current school. In grades 9-12, students will leverage an online platform for access to online, grade-level content and courses aligned to meet their graduation requirements.

Later this week, the district will open registration for families interested in signing up for remote learning for the first semester of the school year. Families will have an opportunity to decide whether they wish to continue for the full year at a later date.

Transportation and bell times

Both school bus and RIPTA bus seating capacities will be reduced as part of social distancing guidelines. While the size of both bus fleets will not change measurably, the number of bus runs will increase to help create more capacity for students. To accommodate these changes, start and end times for the school day have been adjusted for each school. For more information, visit www.providenceschools.org/schools.

PPSD offers school bus transportation for eligible students in grades K-8, as well as those with specific health needs. Eligible students in grades 9-12 receive RIPTA bus passes. Eligibility is based upon the distance between school and residence. Information on school bus routes will be available later this month.

To ensure accurate bus routing, families eligible for school bus transportation, but who have decided not to use the bus service, are asked to share their decision with the district in advance of the school year through an opt-out form, available at www.providenceschools.org/covid19.

School placement

Returning students either will maintain their previous school placement or, in the case of students transitioning from elementary to middle school or from middle to high school, will follow their school choice lottery assignments determined this spring. However, new students and kindergarten students will follow a neighborhood school model, where they will be placed in the nearest elementary school with available space. The neighborhood model does not apply for kindergartners in special programs, such as dual language, bilingual programming or certain special education programs.

Kindergarten placements can be viewed today on the district’s website, using our school assignment finder application. The district will also be mailing information to kindergarten families.

Health and safety

The plan also includes previously shared guidance on social distancing practices, restricting contact beyond stable classroom groups, and cleaning and hygiene protocols. The plan details procedures for isolating a symptomatic student and safeguarding others in that student’s stable group. As a preventative measure, all students and staff will have to attest daily to being free of the following symptoms before entering a school building: fever, cough, chills, muscle pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, sore throat or loss of taste of smell.

The Providence Public School District serves an estimated 24,000 students and families, in 22 elementary schools, seven middle schools, nine high schools and a public-district charter school. The schools are diverse learning centers, with some 65% Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial, and 1% Native American. One third of Providence Public School students are Multilingual Learners (MLL,) and an estimated 16% of all students receive special education services.