Wilton schools hold steady on keeping 3 of 4 buildings open
WILTON — Despite temporarily closing Cider Mill School this week to in-person instruction due to high virus numbers and related quarantines among staff, the school administration is recommending the district hold the course for now at its other buildings.
“We were hard pressed to effectively staff that building,” Kevin Smith, superintendent of schools, told the Board of Education on Thursday night about Cider Mill.
“The recommendation for our other three schools is to keep them in their current models,” he said, with students at Miller-Driscoll School attending four days a week in person, while Wilton High and Middlebrook Schools will continue operating in hybrid models combining in-person and remote learning.
“We are watching our staffing levels in these three schools,” Smith said, noting that while they’ve been able to shift over some substitutes from Cider Mill to other schools to supplement staffing, “It absolutely is a challenge to keep our schools operating in person.”
Smith reported that as of Thursday there were 52 staff members in the district on quarantine, as well as 206 students—close to twice as many as last week.
“The case numbers locally … continue to climb at a dizzying space,” he said.
He said that though his team was striving to publish up-to-date numbers on the district website of cases in the schools, things were now moving so fast they were struggling to keep up.
“The situation is absolutely dynamic and so we monitor it hour by hour, because it can change hour by hour,” he said.
“I think it’s really important to keep our students in school,” Smith said, sharing his worries about how social isolation could increase with more closures.
He noted that there was a wide variety of perspectives on the decision, but said the state was dissuading districts from pre-emptively closing buildings.
At the same time, he said, the fear of staff and parents is reasonable and—should numbers get worse—may play out with more closures.
“People really worry about contracting the virus,” he said. “That’s something that we have to take seriously.”
“I would just make the recommendation that everybody — families and staff alike — be prepared to shift to remote learning if necessary,” Smith said.
“I do see us approaching a tipping point, unfortunately,” he said.
Ironically, it was noted that health experts have been attributing the increase in COVID-19 infections to social gatherings, as well as student athletic events, not school attendance.
“We really haven’t seen widespread indication of in-school transmission,” Smith said.
“That’s great news … but then, all around us, of course, the numbers are getting worse, much of which is due to our behavior,” Chair Deborah Low said.
“And we’re in control of that,” she said, extending her wish that people would rally more seriously around exercising caution.
Toward that end, Smith noted, the Connecticut Interstate Athletic Conference is putting a moratorium on winter sports through Jan. 19.
“We need to have all of our community members think very carefully about the social gatherings that they engage in, and also their travel plans,” he said.
Low suggested implementing a means to test staff as a group at weekly intervals, noting it could help reduce anxiety and provide an additional layer of safety.
Smith said he was looking into the cost and details of doing “pool” surveillance testing and would share more details next month.
“This would be another tool we could avail ourselves of,” he said, noting they would need to get staff buy-in as well.