Norwalk schools chief: State signaling potential long-term closures
NORWALK — State officials may be preparing for the possibility that school instruction may not resume through June, according to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski.
“Again, that is going to be determined,” Adamowski told the Board of Education Tuesday, on a conference call broadcast on the district’s YouTube channel. “We’re hoping — personally I’m hoping — that after our April break we would be able to resume instruction and again, we would make up a certain amount of days but we could complete the school year.”
Adamowski updated the board on the district’s progress in shifting to a distance learning model amid the coronavirus outbreak, which is part of a state directive that would have forgiven days of in-person class missed during Gov. Ned Lamont’s mandatory shutdown through the end of March.
On Monday, the office of state Director of Education Miguel Cardona stated indidivudal districts no longer needed to apply for the exemption, and urged districts to switch from supplemental learning activities to more-long term instructional models.
According to Adamowski, additional weeks or months of distance learning could have implications on things like state testing. More laptops may be needed to support students who need to take the SATs, which could be administered remotely, and cleaning of all school facilities have begun.
“The mayor has offered for the city to pay for expenses such as sanitization, and perhaps the acquisition of additional laptops that are additionally related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Adamowski said. “They would be paying those bills directly.”
The cleaning and sanitizing of Silvermine Dual Magnet School and Rowayton Elementary School have already begun, where Adamoski said there were reports of parents who may have tested positive. Cleaning crews will then move to other schools in the district.
“Under the circumstances, we have two primary objectives,” Adamowski said. “The first is to keep everyone safe and the second is to continue as much learning as possible for our students.”
Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers and Chief of Specialized Learning Yvette Goorevitch presented to the board early efforts to provide education to general and special education students. Across both populations, Adamowski said there was a 96 percent participation rate on the first day of distance learning.
Myers said the district sought to first protect the safety of students, then establish an instructional block daily for students and provide parity of access to technology, by distributing additional Chromebooks and ensuring access to Wi-Fi. Learning packets were distributed to elementary school children, which are supplemented by virtual resources, Myers explained.
“We’re feeling really good about the support we’re providing our community,” Myers said.
Adamowski characterized the issue of serving special education students with the Individual Education Program as particularly challenging.
According to Goorevitch, individual plans for each special education student in Norwalk schools were drafted and sent home to parents before the start of distance learning. Supplemental or additional services are being offered after the daily instructional block, which begins at 8 a.m. and ends at noon. Planning and Placement Team meetings have been moved to video or telephone conference.
Daily meetings on the video-conferencing application Zoom have been arranged to allow communication between administrators, their teams and parents of special education students. The district has also reached out to all students placed out-of-district to learn which have implemented distance learning and which have not. The district has made arrangements for those students who are not receiving distance learning, Goorevitch said.
She said in the first two days, special education participation in lessons was between 96 and 98 percent.
Clinical staff has been providing one-on-one assistance to the highest risk students, as well as parents.
Goorevitch said the district is waiting for guidance on Extended School Year services, which are designed to support students with disabilities and is federally mandated, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, from the federal Office of Special Education Programs and the state Department of Education on proper make-up of compensatory services missed as a result of school closings.
“We are at this point planning ESY as we would have if we did not close,” Goorevitch said. “And when we get additional guidance we will then apply it on an individual basis.”
Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo also gave an update on the distribution of meals, which has been offered to all Norwalk students 18 years old or younger.
Beginning Monday, a team of 150 Norwalk Public School and Chartwells — the district’s food service provider — employees set out on roughly 80 buses to deliver breakfast and lunch at regular school bus stops. For walkers, lunches are available at individual schools.
The numbers, so far, have been high. On Monday, Costanzo said roughly 2,100 meals were distributed. On Tuesday, the district saw a roughly 34 percent jump, up to 2,714.
Costanzo said the district will continue to monitor distribution data — some buses, for instance are only serving 5 percent of their ridership, while others are above 50, and the walker count is low — and is seeking to improve on the quality of meals as demand is better determined. Overall, Costanzo said the district is doing well to feed its students.
“By comparison, Stamford and Waterbury which are both larger districts than us, served 2,000 meals today,” Costanzo said. “And I was told that New Haven served about 1,300 meals yesterday. So we’re certainly doing a great job at getting meals out to our kids throughout the city.”
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