Lincoln worries about lack of tech connectivity, social distancing in schools

Lincoln worries about lack of tech connectivity, social distancing in schools

LINCOLN – The Lincoln School Department is as ready as anyone for the start of school given the latest reopening guidelines that Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Health are requesting they follow, said school officials on Monday.

Uncertainty and concerns about the school year were the main topics of discussion among the Lincoln School Committee members and participants at Monday’s meeting.

Overall safety is a major concern among teachers, and there are fears surrounding proper social distancing, ventilation, hiccups in technology, and lunch safety and protocols, among others.

Many teachers are struggling to deal with internet connectivity issues when it comes to working with the students on their Chromebooks. Both teachers and community members have set high standards and expectations for students, and school leaders said Monday that everyone is going to have to be flexible for 2020-2021.

On the first day back to school Monday, there were several issues related to livestreaming and instruction. Members of the Lincoln Teachers Association said they’re hoping to troubleshoot plans to work through those connectivity issues, such as prerecording lessons so they are available for students.

“We are fearful that community members will be going after the teachers for lack of effort,” said Fred Hoppe, president of the LTA. “I plead to administration and the School Committee, just have our back.”

With the seemingly impossible task of teaching students in person as well as remotely, the LTA is concerned that there will not be enough flexibility from administration and the community.

“I am very concerned about the preparedness about tomorrow. I just hope we can work together,” he said Monday. “We are working together with administration. Just know there is a lot of anxiety out there in the community. We can do this. Teachers are scared and nervous, and I think we all are. We just have some hiccups. This is a global pandemic and unprecedented territory.”

He and others are urging everyone to temper their expectations and be flexible because it will take some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

“We will definitely be monitoring things on a daily basis, if things have to be adjusted and changed they certainly will be,” responded School Committee Member Joseph Goho.” I don’t know how realistic, but we have to comply and we will find out soon how realistic the expectations are.”

Administrators say they are addressing connectivity concerns. Once streaming and networking issues are completely updated, technology support will work to determine if any other issues related to hardware or permissions need to be addressed.

Supt. Larry Filippelli completed walk-throughs of all of the schools with the reopening task force and addressed potential concerns. According to Filippelli, after a few modifications, all of the schools are up to the RIDE and RIDOH standards and “Lincoln was in good shape.”

Some community members have expressed concern that classes with nearly 30 students in them will make six-foot social distancing rules impossible, but school officials say the rule is not in place for educational environments. RIDE guidelines require up to six feet for social distancing. Not all classrooms will have six feet between students.

Any excess furniture has been removed from rooms to allow for more spacing. A pod in the educational environment can consist of 30 people or fewer with up to six feet of social distancing with masks on.

“The guidance is vague and changeable,” said Goho. Under current research, students wearing masks, learning with good ventilation, and continuously being around the same group decreases the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

“It is not about any one thing that creates a safe environment in the classroom. It is the layering of the things. Up to six feet with masks in a well or adequately ventilated environment, and all of the other things, cleaning and sanitation,” stated School Committee member Mary Anne Roll.

Lunch this year will also look and sound much different than it has in the past. Elementary and middle school children will be eating in their classrooms, where the high school students will be allowed to eat in the cafeteria. The RIDOH recommends that students have a quiet lunch, not silent, with social distancing, and they do need mask breaks. There won’t be any stringent disciplinary consequences for students who are out of compliance, according to school officials.

School Committee member Staci Rapko-Bruckner said she feels parents should spread the message and “be supportive, and give your child a speech every morning about the importance” of wearing a mask.

“Everyone is on edge, that is an understatement,” said Filippelli. “Is everything going to be perfect? I don’t think so. I think we are as ready as the plans allowed us to be. I think what we are all asking for is just some patience.”