COVID-19 case counts in Johnston Schools outpace Rhode Island average

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How many COVID cases did each Johnston School have last school year?

Which schools had the highest infection rates? Which schools had the lowest?

What may be in store for students in Johnston Schools next year?

Will masks be required? Will life be back to normal?

There’s no lack of questions facing parents and school administrators as they look toward the 2021-22 school year.

A few of the answers were delivered at the last regular School Committee meeting, when Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. delivered his End-of-Year Report.

“School Administrators, this School Committee, nurses, teachers and support staff came together to have a solid opening plan,” DiLullo said of last year’s pre-opening preparations.

The COVID pandemic made the typically routine school opening more challenging than ever. Many had hoped the pandemic would be behind us by now.

Mutant strains of the virus, however, have led to shifting recommendations from federal and state health officials.

Two years ago, public schooling was chaotic, as in-person classes shifted to at-home learning.

The 2020-21 school year was more conventional, with a hybrid approach, featuring both at-home learning and in-person education.

“Facilities were maintained and provided clean and safe environments,” DiLullo told the School Committee. “Most classrooms in the district have been repainted. Additional facilities equipment and a van were obtained through COVID funds. All rooms have air purifiers in place. Nursing offices have been updated or expanded to provide safe zones for students and staff. Ongoing meetings have occurred to gather information on new and updated facility planning.”

According to the RIDOH, approximately 5,730 to 5,734 COVID cases were reported among students in Rhode Island public and private schools last year, and around 415 to 419 cases among school staff.

“Data reflect any student or staff association with school and does not indicate in-school transmission of COVID-19 as cases may have been exposed outside of school,” according to the RIDOH. “School association is determined based on school scheduling portal and case investigation.”

According to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), 139,184 students were enrolled in schools statewide in October of last year.

Based on that total statewide enrollment figure, and statewide COVID case rates in schools, around 4 percent of Ocean State students tested positive for COVID during last school year.

DiLullo submitted a report detailing COVID cases in each of the district’s schools.

Two schools reported COVID cases hovering around 9 percent of the student body, approximately twice the state average.

Brown Avenue School, which had 214 students enrolled at the end of the school year, reported 15 to 19 COVID cases last year among students (5 to 9 among staff).

The Winsor Hill School, which had 372 students enrolled, reported 30-34 cases among students (10 to 14) among staff.

Johnston Senior High School, which had 761 students enrolled, reported 50 to 54 student COVID cases (10 to 14 staff cases). The infection rate at the high school affected around 7 percent of the total student body.

Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School, which had 766 students enrolled, reported 40 to 44 COVID cases among students (10 to 14 cases among staff). The middle school infection rate was around 6 percent of the total student body.

The Early Childhood Center (ECC) and the Sarah Dyer Barnes School both had COVID infection rates at around 5 percent of their student populations.

The ECC, which had 190 students enrolled, reported 5 to 9 student cases and 5 to 9 staff cases.

The Barnes School, which had 283 students enrolled, reported 10 to 14 cases among students and fewer than five staff cases.

The Thornton School, which had 338 students enrolled, reported 10 to 14 cases among students (fewer than five cases among staff).

The infection rate at the Thornton School affected around 4 percent of the total student body.

The Graniteville School had the lowest COVID infection rate in the Johnston School System, with only about 3 percent of its students testing positive.

The Graniteville School, which had 115 students enrolled last year, reported fewer than five cases among students and fewer than five cases among staff.

“There was no identified break out in any of our schools,” DiLullo said this week. “Our precautions will continue with the air purifiers in each room, regular cleaning and disinfecting of the buildings, having hand sanitizers in each classroom. We have planned for a district nurse to ensure we always have nurse coverage.”

The St. Rocco School, in Johnston, which had 154 students enrolled last year, reported 15 to 19 COVID cases among students, and fewer than five among staff, according to the RIDOH.

The infection rate at the St. Rocco School affected around 12 percent of the Catholic School’s total student body.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has revised its guidance for masks in schools.

“Given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, CDC has updated the guidance for fully vaccinated people,” according to the CDC website. “CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”

Next year’s mask policy in Johnston Schools has yet to be decided.

“We have not decided on a specific plan for masks yet as the guidance is continually updated,” DiLullo said Tuesday.

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