Rhode Island plans to have schoolchildren and teachers back in the classroom for face-to-face instruction starting Aug. 31, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.
While the state's remote learning plan during the coronavirus pandemic has been one of the most successful in the nation, "There is no substitute for in-person learning," the Democrat said at a news conference.
The date was set based on current data trends regarding the virus that indicate reopening schools will be safe then, but there will be some flexibility.
Schools will look different she said, with desks spaced farther apart, more frequent cleaning, fewer kids on buses, and children and teachers likely wearing masks.
Kids who are sick, even with a minor sniffle, will be required to stay home.
"We pride ourselves on a perfect attendance culture, and that's going to have to change," she said.
The Rhode Island Department of Education will on June 19 post its minimum safety requirements that all public and private schools must meet. Each district must then submit a reopening plan to the state based on those minimum standards by July 17, she said.
To help schools offset anticipated increased costs, the state will provide at least $42 million in federal coronavirus aid, she said.
State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green may have disappointed some children when she said there will be no more snow days. Instead, students will return to remote learning on days when the weather forces them to stay home.
The return to the classroom will benefit children, she said.
"I am super excited because I have two kids in my house," Infante-Green said. "They need their friends. We all know school is not just academics."
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose slightly to 148 as of Sunday, the latest day for which the data is available, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.
That was up by three from the previous day.
The department also reported 66 news cases of the disease and four additional deaths.
The 66 new cases were out of 2,539 people tested, a positive rate of 2.6 percent.
The state's death toll is now 812. Of the four new deaths, two people were in their 80s and two were in their 90s, department Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said.
Raimondo said Wednesday she was tested for the coronavirus because she did not wear a mask during a meeting with protesters outside the State House last Friday.
She tested negative.
Her husband was also tested, but she did not disclose the results of his test.
The governor was criticized for failing to take her own advice and wear a mask during the meeting, and later apologized.
People receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, often referred to as food stamps, can now buy groceries online at Amazon and Walmart, Raimondo said.
She said the state made the move after hearing from many older residents who receive the benefits who were concerned about leaving their homes during the pandemic.
Rhode Island has spent only a small portion of the $1.25 billion it received in federal aid to fight the coronavirus, but could spend another $700 million by the end of the year, officials with Raimondo's administration told a legislative committee.
Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley told the legislature's Emergency Spending Task Force on Tuesday that anywhere from $350 million to $600 million may be left over.
Some lawmakers said that money should be used to help communities of color and minority-owned businesses that were disproportionately affected by the virus. Others said more should be done to protect the health of staff and residents of the state's nursing homes, also hit hard by the virus.
The state is also facing an estimated $800 million budget deficit because of the pandemic, and the federal aid could be used to address that, some lawmakers said.