Wilton undertakes complex plans to reopen schools in fall
WILTON — It’s now officially months away at the very least, but Thursday night, May 7, the Board of Education got a first glimpse into what reopening the schools might entail.
Chuck Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, gave a broad presentation highlighting the numerous areas that need to be examined and considered in relation to the reopening.
“We’re not quite ready to share detailed action plans,” he said. “That’ll be the next step.”
But he presented a long list of academic, health, safety and logistical details that will have to be taken into account.
“My first thought is how overwhelming this is on every single level,” Chair Deborah Low said.
“As hard as it was to close — and the challenges we went through with that — this is even more complex,” she said.
“We’re trying to define the problem so we can come up with a very defined approach,” said Smith, who said it is no longer just a reopening plan but will possibly need to be one with the flexibility for one or more future repeat closures.
“The core purpose here is that we continue teaching and learning,” he said, noting that while Wilton Public Schools has done an admirable job of facing the current COVID-19 crisis, it was entirely unprepared before. Thus, he said, “a more robust learning management system” needs to be put in place for the future.
“One thing that I’m very concerned about is to what extent are we ready to reopen with the right health and safety measures in place,” Smith said, citing everything from air ventilation in the schools and cleaning procedures, to issues involved with transportation and food.
“Even something as simple as hand washing really creates some district challenges,” he said, as do questions of students and staff sharing supplies, as well as issues of people entering and exiting the buildings.
“We might have to create cohorts that’ll minimize interaction between students and teachers,” he said. “We’ll have to avoid large group gatherings.”
“There’s issues around contact tracing,” Smith said, plus the larger question of how people are to be trained in dealing with all of these changes.
“Will we offer an opt-out for some people? What will be the distance-learning options for some?” he said, noting that the district will also need to rethink its staffing in relation to e-learning and how the educational delivery model ultimately unfolds.
“It’s absolutely mind-boggling, Chuck, what you guys are having to go through,” observed Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle, noting that many of the plans the district draws up “all could go out the window if the state says something else.”
Toward that end, he raised the questions of whether CABE—the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education—could put some pressure on the state office to expedite guidelines.
“Sadly, I just don’t know, from a reality standpoint, what we can do without getting guidance from the state,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said the state Department of Education was “already feeling the pressure.”
Per Commissioner Miguel Cardona, he said, guidelines will likely be presented in waves, with the first set of guidelines focused on summer school and summer camps, and expected to be made available on May 15.
Several board members said it was important to keep parents informed on what’s happening.
“The families will have to be very much integrated into whatever plans are implemented,” Low said.
Smith said over the next two months working groups will be developed around different goal areas fleshed out in the plan, including a focus on timelines, curriculum adjustment, wellness and academic interventions.
He said he would have an update at the board’s meeting on May 21.
Low, meanwhile, noted that she has scheduled tentative Board of Education meetings for each Thursday over the next seven weeks, and said even more may be required.
“As we unveil these plans and get down these roads … it will probably take more meetings as well, so that’s why I’ve calendared on a tentative basis every Thursday between now and June 18 … if needed,” she said.
“Things are going to be coming down the pike so fast and furious,” Hemmerle said, “I think that makes sense.”
“We have begun planning for what we believe may be a very disruptive return to school,” Smith said.
“It’s crazy,” Hemmerle said, “just insane.”