Students return to school as state ramps up virus testing

In a still capture from video, Maribeth Calabro, President of the Providence Teachers Union and Frank Flynn, President of the statewide Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals talk with reporters September 14, 2020 about their request that federal investigators assess the safety of Providence schools.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Children across Rhode Island returned to school Monday as the state launched its coronavirus testing program for students, teachers and staffers.

Nearly all Rhode Island public school districts were given the go-ahead to resume full in-person classes, although parents have the option of keeping their kids home to learn remotely.

The state has created a testing program that health officials say will provide quick results to any public or private K-12 school student, teacher or staff member who needs to be tested for the coronavirus.

Tests will be provided to students, teachers or staff who have symptoms or have been directed to be tested because they were in close contact with someone who tested positive, the state health department said.

“This will be key to minimizing disruptions to school communities and making this academic year a success for all students and schools throughout Rhode Island,” Alexander-Scott said in an emailed statement.

People who have symptoms will first get a rapid test, which will provide results that same day. Then they will get a second test, and those results will be provided within an average of 48 hours, health officials said.

Some districts are bringing in only some students; Gov. Gina Raimondo said schools have until Oct. 13 to ramp up to full in-person learning.

The Providence and Central Falls schools are allowed to open to only a limited number of students at first because those cities exceeded the state’s threshold of 100 new cases per 100,000 residents per week. Providence, with about 24,000 students, is the state’s largest school district.

In Providence, 7,000 students are returning in person Monday, WPRI-TV reported.

The union that represents Providence teachers said Monday that it is asking the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to inspect the district’s school buildings to ensure that students and teachers can safely return there.