Cumberland schools now responsible for contact tracing | News

CUMBERLAND — School board members learned last week that local schools are now responsible for COVID contact tracing, an unbudgeted expense.

Supt. Philip Thornton told school board members that Governor Dan McKee has told school districts that the Rhode Island Department of Health will no longer do contact tracing and that it is now in the hands of the schools themselves. He gave the news after school board member Denis Collins asked if schools or the state anticipated any major changes due to the Omicron variant, including closures.

“Are we expecting any specific changes to the masking policies that are currently re-approved once a month, or any upcoming changes on that?” Collins asked.

“Omicron hasn’t been the concern, what has been the concern of administrators and nurses is the workload of things like contact tracing,” Thornton said. “As of December 10, the state no longer conducts contact tracing. They have a website and the school staff take care of it at work.

Collins asked for clarification on whether the state is not seeking contact only with schools or not at all.

“I can’t talk outside of the schools, I just know that on the school side, we’re being asked to do all this tracing starting tomorrow,” Thornton said.

Collins asked if Cumberland had the resources to conduct contact tracing.

“No school has the resources to do this,” Thornton said.

Thornton said schools have seen an increase in cases, but he is also optimistic about the growing number of students being vaccinated.

“We’re certainly aware of the things we’re seeing (it’s climbing),” Thornton said. “At the same time, we’re also optimistic that more young students will get vaccinated and I think Cumberland will find ways to get more vaccines into more arms.”

School committee chair Karen Freedman said as of the date of the meeting, Dec. 9, the FDA had approved booster shots for teens as young as 16 and 17.

Also at the Dec. 9 meeting, Deputy Superintendent. Antonio DiManna said his assessment of Cumberland’s scores in the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) has given him and his team knowledge of what they need to focus on to get back to the skill levels that they had reached before the pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, we were forced to pivot our practices, and as a result, key constructs of our model came into question,” DiManna said. “The very premise of our gains (was) based on fundamental frameworks of many internal professional development practices, a strict focus on pedagogy, direct instruction, and the cyclical process of curriculum review and assessment.”

DiManna said there were several variables in the data they presented to the school board, including having more than 600 students in remote learning for an entire year, being one of the last schools to return to in-person instruction and have a greater number of students compared to other schools in the area.

DiManna said Cumberland was one of the last districts to return to hybrid and comprehensive in-person education in the state. When they came back, it fell just before the testing window in March and April, which put them at a disadvantage.

Based on the low scores they found among many students, DiManna said school administrators now know where they need to fill in the gaps to continue meeting grade level standards. Some of the ways they plan to do this include adding intervention resources, instructional coaches, and working with teachers to find the best possible ways to get students to reach their full potential.

“Our academic model has certainly declined in the stormy conditions of the pandemic, but the levy has not erupted,” DiManna said. “Together we will do more things that will allow us to reach our peak before the pandemic.”

DiManna said he and his team are committed to getting back to where they were before the pandemic. To do this, they understood that they had to focus on the fundamentals.

“Cumberland is lucky because we can tick all of those boxes, we just need time with our students,” DiManna said. “A few months of in-person teaching can really make a difference.”

“I’m not at a loss that Cumberland is a bigger district and therefore needs more pass rates than other schools to move the needle,” Thornton said.

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