PAWTUCKET – While Saint Raphael Academy has three options for the reopening of school this fall – an in-person return, a hybrid option, and full virtual learning – Principal Daniel Richard on Wednesday said that the plan now is that the high school will open next month with a full, in-person return to class.

With about 400 students total – which Richard says is about one-third the size of public high schools in cities such as Woonsocket or East Providence – and eight buildings spread out over the campus on Walcott Street, Saint Rays has “a little more latitude” than other schools to be able to socially distance and apply a full, in-person return to school this fall, he said.

“Part of it is that we do have eight buildings, an outside between buildings, there’s no other school like that in Rhode Island,” Richard said in an interview with The Times on Wednesday. “The students have proved they will be in compliance with directives from the state or us. We will have students wearing masks throughout the day and they will adhere to that.”

Richard’s confidence in the student body’s adherence to mask wearing, social distance, and the new societal norms in the era of COVID-19 stems from the fact that Saint Raphael Academy was the de facto epicenter for the virus’ arrival to Rhode Island in late-February.

A group of 38 students and adults – among them 28 from Saint Rays – flew out of Boston on Feb. 14. One of the earlier stops on their trek across Europe was Italy, where the vacationers spent a single day. The students and staff returned home on Feb. 22, but a student, teacher, and staff member on the trip all tested positive for COVID-19 and 130 students were quarantined, leading to the decision to close the academy and hold classes online well before the implementation of statewide distance learning.

“I think the biggest thing is everybody in the school knows the significance of what the virus can do, we saw it in February when we saw the quarantine,” Richard said. “I think our student body understands the importance of taking and following protocols. I’m very confident they will do that as we go through the next year.”

“I think they are exemplary,” he continued. “Every one of the 120 students that had to self-quarantine did it, there was no social spread, not one person in the school community got the virus when it came here from the school trip.”

The school day at Saint Raphael Academy will look much different this fall than it did last year prior to the arrival of COVID-19. Entrances and exits will be one-directional, spaces will be set up differently on the campus, cleaning will be greatly increased throughout the day – with common areas such as bathrooms sanitized regularly. End-of-school departure times will also be slightly staggered, possibly extended by five or six minutes, and students will arrive at school and report directly to their first period class rather than going to homeroom, to minimize the amount of people they are exposed to.

“We’ve taken a lot of steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff and students,” Richard said.

Richard also knows that some students may not attend class this year – whether it’s international students who’ll be educated on-line or local students who are uncomfortable or who have compromised immune systems and cannot attend class in person. Thus, he said, Saint Rays will be able to provide virtual instruction for those students.

“You could almost argue by definition we’ll be hybrid,” he said. “There will be some students that will need to be instructed virtually.”

But if the school needs to fully implement the hybrid model, Richard said, it will roll out a “50-50 purple and gold” class day, during which each grade level would be divided in half and taught in school two days a week, while the rest are educated virtually, then the two groups would flip the way they are educated the other days in the week.

“We’re planning right now that we’ll be opening up with a full return, we reserve the right to change that based on the COVID-19 virus and what the state leadership says and the Diocese,” Richard said. “If we were reopening tomorrow, (in-person is) how we’d be opening up.”

A group of 15 administrators, teachers, parents, and nurses worked on the plan to safely reopen Saint Rays, and the information will soon be distributed to students and their families, with Richard saying “we want their feedback.”

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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