More kids in Rhode Island are getting sick.
The newest COVID-19 data for children, and an emerging statewide public school mask mandate, will require Johnston to revisit last week’s controversial district masks-optional policy.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) has reported a 60 percent spike in pediatric COVID-19 cases from July 25 to Aug. 1.
“That’s a big jump,” said Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo. “The data clearly says that this is a highly virulent strain. If you see that kind of jump over the summer, we need to take a look at what our policies are going to be.”
Just last Tuesday, Aug. 10, the Johnston School Committee voted to make masks optional for students as they returned to school, leaving the decision up to parents.
Now, following a worrying health data release and a new mandate from the Rhode Island Department of Education, DiLullo and the School Committee will be revising the district’s back-to-school plan.
The Special School Committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 23, in the Ferri Middle School Library.
“I know our committee will do whatever it takes to get the kids back to school,” DiLullo said Tuesday. “That’s really our goal. We will be in discussion on how to approach our current plan, and if it needs to be revised.”
The Ocean State’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education met Monday night and issued a statewide mask mandate.
“They ordered the commissioner not to accept the return to school plans if they did not mandate masks,” DiLullo said.
The Johnston superintendent confirmed the School Committee would need to meet before the first day of school on Sept. 1 to revise the current plan, which left the decision to mask up to parents.
Since the Johnston School Committee voted on the issue last week, both Warwick and Cranston School Committees have voted to make masks mandatory for returning students.
Similar votes have been occurring in towns and cities across the Ocean State.
An agenda for the upcoming Johnston School Committee meeting has not yet been posted, but the meeting may happen as soon as Monday or Tuesday of next week.
DiLullo could only confirm that the committee will be forced to meet before the school year begins.
“This really is a divisive issue, and it’s unfortunate,” DiLullo said. “I think I understand both sides.”
The superintendent and the Johnston School Committee has also decided not to offer at-home synchronous distance learning, as they did last year. DiLullo does not expect a reversal of that decision.
“We are still not offering synchronous learning in the district,” DiLullo said. “As time goes on, who knows what will happen? Hopefully we won’t get to that point.”
DiLullo spoke to the DOH on Tuesday to get a grip on the newest data set.
“I just got off a call with the Department of Health,” DiLullo said. “They gave us the latest numbers they have on pediatric cases.”
According to the DOH, there were 139 pediatric COVID-19 cases statewide as of July 25, among the state’s 5-17 year olds.
By Aug. 1, that number has swelled to 231, a massive 60 percent jump.
“We want to get as many kids back to school as possible,” DiLullo said, adding that the decision to enforce mask mandates has triggered strong feelings among the district’s parents. “It’s really unfortunate that it has to be one way or another.”