Wilton schools will reopen in fall

WILTON — Breaking news that the state wants to see all students back in school this fall was reviewed at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith shared an overview of the information he has, thus far, received following discussions with Miguel Cardona, commissioner of education earlier in the day.

Smith said many unknowns remain.

“I’m very anxious to hear and to see the detailed document that is to be published Monday because I have a very, very long list of questions,” he said.

At the heart of the plan is the inclusion of all students in an in-school experience, despite certain facilities restrictions as they relate to social distancing, as well as other variables.

And while the state’s plan continues to evolve, albeit piecemeal, Smith stressed that at this time Wilton had no specific plan in place for the fall.

“There is no comprehensive … plan at this point,” he said in response to fear-based concerns that board member Mandi Schmauch said have been brewing amongst her constituents.

“I’ve had so many emails from people,” she said, expressing objections to things that aren’t even in place.

“The rumor mill is el fuego, el fuego—on fire,” she said.

“People need to sit tight for a little bit,” Smith said, noting he would begin sending out weekly updates starting Friday.

He reminded the board that nine separate committees have been meeting for a month now to examine options and devise plans, but noted that things remain in flux.

In a press release from the state Cardona said, “Addressing the educational setbacks and the social-emotional toll caused by COVID-19 is best addressed by maximizing in-person instructional time.

“In developing this plan, we worked in close consultation with public health officials to prioritize the safety of our school communities and, just as intensively, engaged students, parents, and educators for their critical input,” he said.

“We stand with our districts, educators and families as we commit to making 2020-21 a year devoted to creativity, innovation, courage, and reimagining education together,” he said.

“We’re going to have to define for ourselves what it is we can and should be doing to maximize social distancing,” Smith said, per the directive.

“They’re not talking about consistently maintaining six feet of social distancing … You can’t have every kid back in our facility and maintain six feet,” he said — a common problem most districts in the state are facing.

The state’s solution is to focus on “cohorting,” which Smith explained meant “to the best extent possible you keep (a class) together throughout the school day and prevent them from mixing with the other kids.”

“That’s probably more achievable at an elementary school, (but) it becomes far more challenging at the high school level,” he said, noting the practice is not going to be a state requirement, but is being strongly encouraged.

The district will also have to meet face-covering requirements, as well as implement advanced hand-washing practices and enhanced cleaning routines.

“This is all dependent on the continued data trend with respect to COVID-19,” he said.

“We know that over the last month or so, comparability speaking, Connecticut has done and is doing really, really well,” Smith said, noting the state’s diminishing illness numbers figured prominently in the decision.

Though they won’t be meeting for at least the next two weeks, board members were close-mouthed in reaction.

“I prefer to wait until we see the guidance from the state on Monday,” Chair Deborah Low said, noting she too had questions.

“My main takeaway is that it’s based on a very optimistic assumption about Connecticut data,” she said, “that it’s going to stay positive and get even better.

“It’s certainly more optimistic and positive than I was expecting, to be honest,” she said.

“We know that we’re going to have some students and some staff members (who) because of their own … medical conditions can’t be in session in person,” Smith said, so some distance-learning practices will have to be kept in place.

He said that when the district reopens on July 6, his staff will begin diving into details on a plan, noting it was a “daunting” task before them.

“We have a deadline for submitting a plan to the state by July 24,” he said.