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Rhode Island public schools to be fully in-person this fall, governor says

Rhode Island leaders will look ahead to the upcoming school year at a news conference scheduled for Wednesday. (WJAR File Photo){p}{/p}
Rhode Island leaders will look ahead to the upcoming school year at a news conference scheduled for Wednesday. (WJAR File Photo)

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Fully vaccinated students, faculty and staff won't be required to wear masks indoors when Rhode Island's public schools open in the fall, officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Dan McKee, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott announced back-to-school coronavirus guidance during a briefing at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.

McKee said learning will be fully in-person and that school districts won't be required to provide distance learning plans. Field trips will be allowed again.

Because only children 12 and older can be vaccinated, officials said school districts will need to formulate their own mask policies for younger children and those who are not vaccinated.

"Today is an amazing day. We look forward to our kids being back in the school buildings and enjoying each others' company and learning the way we know the kids need, in person," Infante-Green said.

Masks will be required for everyone on school buses, which is a federal requirement that applies to transportation, and windows will be open. There will be no capacity limits on school buses.

Infante-Green said stable pods are encouraged. The Department of Education said it recommends 3-foot distancing when stable pods are not used.

The state said it recommends that school districts adopt a seven-day quarantine policy, although the Department of Health has the discretion to require a longer quarantine if necessary. A COVID-19 test is required to return to class.

"Only close contacts of positive cases who are not vaccinated will be quarantined so long as adequate physical distancing was enforced," Infante-Green said. "Longer quarantine lengths may be recommended in certain situations where there's more likely to be a sustained outbreak."

McKee said 90% of teachers and staff in Rhode Island are fully vaccinated, about 60% of children 16 to 18 years old are fully vaccinated, and that about 40% of children 12 to 15 years old are fully vaccinated.

Alexander-Scott encouraged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, citing the spread of the contagious Delta variant.

She said while it's unlikely the state will see a significant spike similar to last fall, or see clusters in schools, vaccination is the best way to stay safe.

A release from the governor's office said current K-12 Health and Safety Guidance for summer school remains in effect throughout the season.

The return of field trips is welcomed news for Brooke Avila, an elementary school student from Bristol.

"We were supposed to go sail boating this year, but we didn't get to do it," Avila said.

For both Brooke and her 12-year-old brother, Gavin, what life in the classroom will be like remains up in the air.

"He did not get vaccinated, he wanted to, but I felt I wasn't prepared for it. I'm not prepared to do that yet," Gavin's mother, Rosa, said.

She added she hopes kids can experience a much more normal school year and worry less about quarantining.

"A lot of times they were out because they had to wait for a COVID test, and we followed all the regulations and everything," she said.

For Gavin, who attends Kickemuit Middle School, going mask-free would be the biggest difference.

"Sweaty, sweaty face all the time, itchy face," he said. "It was just terrible, really."

As another school year approaches during the pandemic, many parents are expecting the unexpected.

"I would love to see all kids without masks to be honest with you, but I can certainly understand we don’t know what's going to happen," Rosa Avila said.

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said all COVID restrictions will be drops in schools, including masks. However, regulations are subject to change prior to the start of the year. School boards will be able to vote on a policy and opt to require masks.

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