September 25, 2020
Dear Smithfield Staff and Families,
This 15th edition of the weekly Return to School report includes a notification about our first confirmed case requiring a quarantine. We also include a discussion about spread rate, an update on transportation, the addition of more direct instruction for the virtual option, and reminders about masks and attestation forms.
A Confirmed Case
While a number of Smithfield students have been tested, just one student tested positive for the coronavirus during the first two weeks of school. This high school student was exposed to the virus outside of the school environment. Our nurse and administrators worked with the Department of Health to identify close contacts. A close contact is defined as an individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. The RIDOH used our classroom seating charts and the child’s lunch group to identify four students who are to be quarantined. These students and their families have been notified and will not return to school until after the defined period.
Spread Rates and Quarantines
Until a vaccine is employed, our work as a community is to reduce the spread of the virus. Scientists use a statistic, R0, to measure the potential spread of a virus. R0, sometimes called the spread rate, is the average number of infections caused by an infectious case (scientists define this more precisely!). When R0 is >1, the spread is growing, since each infected individual spreads the disease to more than one member of the community, on average, increasing the numbers of people infected. If R0 is less than one, the disease will eventually die out. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the R0 for COVID to be between 1.4 and 2.5 (source). When we quarantine infected individuals, we decrease the spread rate. If, for example, an infected individual spreads the virus to 4 others but these 4 are quarantined before they spread the virus to anyone else, the average spread rate would be (4+0+0+0+0)/5 = 0.8.
When individuals attend large parties, break quarantine or refuse to wear a mask in public places, the average spread rate increases and the number of cases rise. Our families are doing a great job with setting clear expectations for mask-wearing and other safe behaviors. We are in this together.
Update on Transportation
Bus seats have been reserved for students living outside the walk zone whose parents have not opted out of bus transportation. Not all such students, however, are taking the bus. On a recent school day, our staff counted students on each bus and found several buses with fewer than 5 students. As a result, long lines of cars are dropping off students each day, causing traffic backups. We will be asking our bus company to assess which students are not riding the bus and may be calling families to give up their seat so that we can offer these seats to others at the edges of our walk zones. Please consider changing from parent drop off to bus pick up over the next week so that this issue can be naturally resolved.
Virtual Option Positions
Teachers are working hard to meet the needs of all our students, however, while some students are learning from home, teachers have a full schedule of classes during the day. Logistically, we were unable to set aside some positions just for virtual students because the numbers did not work out. In larger districts, where there are large numbers of staff, or in some smaller districts, where all of the same grade level are in the same building, this can be accomplished.
We determined a structure that will add additional direct instruction for our virtual option students. Tutors - preferably with teaching credentials - are being hired for elementary grades, beginning in kindergarten. The kindergarten tutor is expected to begin sometime next week. This position will work under the direction of our assistant superintendent and the regular kindergarten teachers to deliver instruction in ELA and mathematics. Parents will continue to get learning plans from their child’s kindergarten teacher for other subjects and activities.
There’s much to work through in this model. Determining how the tutors will work together with teachers, how grading will be accomplished, which person parents should contact for questions, and other details will ensure that the model is effective.
It is expected that tutors for other elementary grades will be added over the next few weeks.
Washing Masks - Most students come to school with clean masks but some students are wearing the same mask each day and the mask is not being washed regularly. Masks can be included with the regular laundry or wash by hand. Our assistant superintendent cleans her family’s masks each day by soaking in a solution of Oxyclean, rinsing, then hanging to dry.
Attestation Forms - After an illness, all staff and students are expected to submit an after-illness attestation form. These forms are available online through the RIDOH website (see link) or through our COVID webpage (see red link on the district website).
Dedicated Testing Centers - See this website - https://health.ri.gov/covid/testing/k-12/ for an overview of when to get a test, what happens on the day of the test, and the locations of the K-12 testing sites. To schedule a test, parents or staff can call: (844) 857 - 1814 - 7 Days a Week: 7:30 AM - 9:30 PM.
Last week, Smithfield had 9 new cases of COVID-19. This corresponds to a daily rate of 1.3 new cases per ~22,000 residents, or 5.9 per 100,000. The governor’s original cutoff was 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. By working together, we can keep these numbers low for our community.
Judy Paolucci, Superintendent