Wilton wades into summer school possibilities
WILTON — Myriad accommodations will need to be put in place in order for Wilton to hold summer school this year, per new state guidelines released on Wednesday.
On Thursday night, May 21, Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith gave the Board of Education a brief taste of how extensive the various considerations are going to be to execute summer programs for what could include hundreds of students.
“When you talk about ESY [Extended School Year], it’s hundreds, and when you factor in continuing education, it’s hundreds upon hundreds,” he said.
“Our programs are going to look very different,” he said, including a range of health and safety precautions, and various new practices to abet social distancing.
A 13-page draft document from Gov. Ned Lamont called “Rules for Operating Summer Schools During COVID-19” states that each municipality’s superintendent may allow in-person summer school classes beginning July 6, provided locations comply with state and CDC requirements, and that changes in local infection rates do not prohibit safe operation.
“We’re in the midst of evaluating it now,” Smith said of the document, which includes details on the reopening process, physical space set-up, personal protection, cleaning and disinfecting, health guidance for employees, detailed bathroom protocols, and detailed bus protocols.
“All participants are required to wear masks, unless there is a medical reason you can’t wear masks,” Smith said.
“There’s also a requirement for some kind of visual health screenings and temperature tests,” he said.
“Not only is there a bus monitor for every bus, but kids have to be staggered (which) dramatically reduces the number of kids we can have on any bus,” he said.
Smith and others noted the irony, that for years school officials have urged parents to make better use of the fleet of 42 school buses, but now may end up asking them to drive their students to school instead in light of the pandemic considerations.
“We do provide transportation for our students with disabilities, so that will be a piece of the puzzle,” said Andrea Leonardi, assistant superintendent for student services.
“We’re taking a look at what do these perimeters mean to us and could we make those perimeters work and provide services,” she said, and specifically how they might affect academic learning.
“Will doing all of those things have an impact on the quality of instruction?” she said.
Smith pointed out that summer school is not always just about academics, but daycare.
“So many of our summer school programs serve a childcare function as well,” he said, “so I just want you all to know that we’re sensitive to that.”
He said he is in discussions with Steve Pierce, director of Parks and Recreation, potentially coordinating on programming in one way or another.
“We are deep in the weeds right now,” Leonardi said. “We have more questions than answers.”
One big question remaining is just how many students will opt in for in-person summer school if it is in operation, versus how many parents will want to keep their kids at home for more e-learning options.
Asked if they could survey parents to find out, Leonardi discouraged the idea, noting that they would be under no obligation to commit either way, and that parents could then change their minds.
“They can change their mind in the middle and call on a Monday and say they want to come back,” she said, and the district would be required to provide accommodations.
“In all likelihood, if we go live at all it will be a part of our students, not all of our students,” she said.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the state to be the resource for any IEP requirements,” Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle said.
For example, he raised the question of what might happen if the district is unable to obtain thermometers, or is unable to get enough before school opens.
“Then what do we do?” he said. “We don’t open school? So I think the state has got to really step up and solve this problem.”
Chair Deborah Low agreed, but noted there were some 169 municipalities in the state and it may be a tall order.
“All of this perhaps is going to be overwhelming, (but) it gives us at least a good starting point,” she said, for the bigger picture.
“It’s kind of a precursor for the larger school opening in September, so in one way perhaps it’s good to start asking these questions sooner than later,” she said.
“I know that parents are anxious,” Leondardi said. “We are anxious too.”
“It is very challenging,” Leonardi said, calling just the goal of getting summer school open by July 6 “a Mount Everest-sized challenge.”