NORTH MIAMI BEACH | The “Happy” dance was not in Jim Rigg’s plans, but there was a lot of “happy” around St. Lawrence School as students returned to the classroom Aug. 18, 2021.
True to his plan at the start of his tenure here — to make a point of visiting each of the archdiocese’s 61 Catholic schools — the new superintendent spent the first morning of the 2021-22 academic year greeting students at St. Lawrence as their parents dropped them off for their first day of school.
Rigg, who holds a doctorate in educational administration and started out as a teacher in Catholic schools, then visited several classrooms, including the second grade, where he found the students dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” — and he happily joined in.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” Rigg had told media gathered outside some minutes earlier, noting that he thought “it would be wonderful to get out and see kids.”
He noted that St. Lawrence was welcoming “dozens of new families” thanks to Florida’s recent expansion of its scholarship programs for students from low-income families. A family of four applying through Step Up for Students can obtain as much as $7,000 toward private school tuition and fees while making between $68,000 and $78,000 a year.
Dian Hyatt, principal of St. Lawrence, said enrollment at the K-8 school had gone from about 140 at the start of the summer to just over 170 by the first day of school.
“We’re so delighted to have so many new students” throughout Catholic schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, Rigg said. “It’s going to be a good year; a complex year because of the pandemic, but a good year.”
On Aug. 13, 2021, the archdiocese announced a tweak in its COVID policy for Catholic schools, which had been published a week earlier. Masks are now mandatory for everyone in elementary schools while remaining optional for those who are vaccinated in the high schools. Other safety measures that also were commonplace last year, such as social distancing of three feet or more and plexiglass divisions in the classrooms, are to remain in place.
Rigg said the archdiocese had arrived at those policies after consultation with independent medical experts. Last year, he noted, “we did an outstanding job of keeping kids safe” — which is also the goal this year, along with encouraging vaccinations among everyone who is eligible. Only children 12 and under are not eligible right now for the COVID-19 vaccines.
The archdiocesan policy on mandatory masks does not run afoul of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on masks because “that order does not apply to non-public schools,” Rigg said.
He added that “our plan is subject to change as the pandemic progresses,” and will be reviewed weekly.
Jacqueline Migues dropped off her daughter, Celeste, who is starting the fourth grade. She is beginning her third year at St. Lawrence, but last year she attended school virtually.
“Her grades dropped a lot last year,” Migues said, but they improved greatly after Celeste spent two weeks in summer school.
“With this COVID theme I would prefer she continue online,” the mother said, “but we have to look at the social aspect.”
Migues noted that “kids always come down with something” when school starts. “Given the doubt, I prefer the mask.”