Tardy Slip!: School plans missed their deadline

While schools are reopening imminently, plans for addressing risks from COVID-19 that the RI Department of Education were supposed to be made public by August 27 are, as of the day after the deadline, often still unclear. Some districts have posted plans on their websites by the deadline but others have not.

The state’s return to school in 2021 is much like its weather: meticulous predictions, last-minute changes and many disappointments. With only a week or two before beginning the academic year, administrations find themselves having to react to changing conditions and regulations. For many students this will be their first time in the classroom in more than 18 months. For many parents and staff, there is still a lot to clarify in a short period of time. 

One decision for all districts is settled: Gov. Dan McKee backtracked on mask mandates for students: He initially declined to issue a statewide mandate while saying he expected local districts to comply with CDC guidance — which “recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” The practical effect was to leave local school committees and superintendents to negotiate policies separately on their own, navigating controversies between parents and unions, leading to widespread criticism. On August 19 the governor did a volte-face and issued Executive Order 21-87 requiring “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools” regardless of vaccination status.


Warwick schools on August 25 updated their department’s “health and safety” policy for staff to comply with the mask mandate as issued by the governor. It will require all staff and students to wear a face covering.

The Cranston School Department declined to speak about their COVID plans until after their plans were posted on their website and submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), hoping to complete that by Monday, August 30.

RI colleges are also going through last minute updates and changes.  On the morning of  Monday, August 23, Gov. McKee told ABC newscaster T.J. Holmes that RI was the first state where all  institutions of higher education would start the fall semester with a requirement that students be fully vaccinated. “Fully vaccinated” is defined as having at least two weeks following the final dose of either a one-dose or two-dose vaccine.

But three days earlier, Rhode Island College (RIC) issued a notice delaying the start of their semester by a week to allow students more time to get vaccinated and rolling back their requirement that all students be fully vaccinated prior to attending classes, altering prior policy by allowing students who are only partially vaccinated to attend in-person classes if they provide a negative COVID test before each visit to the RIC campus. Students must have taken at least one vaccination shot prior to attending in-person classes.

Within hours of McKee’s statement to Holmes, CCRI’s Vice President Alix Ogden was telling the school’s students that CCRI also would no longer require them to be fully vaccinated at the semester’s start, delaying the 14-day after last dose “fully vaccinated” requirement for in-person students. Instead, students would be able to attend classes on campus by providing a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours. CCRI’s revised policy calls for all students to show proof of vaccination within 30 of their class start; students enrolling in the “late start” option would have until October 30 to prove vaccination and as late as November 15 before being considered fully vaccinated. CCRI stated that students who fail to provide proof of vaccination by the 30-day mark will be disenrolled.