Wilton pushes back against state with school reopening plan
WILTON — A detailed outline of Wilton’s school reopening plans — since they are not complete — is now in the hands of state officials. The Board of Education unanimously approved the 29-page document presented by Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith at its Thursday meeting. The state required school districts to submit reopening plans by July 24.
The board also approved changes to the school calendar.
Accompanying the document to the state is a letter shared by board Chairwoman Deborah Low that argues for flexibility to determine the best scenario for each school. The letter also was approved by the board.
“We are not agreeing on a plan,” she said of the document. “We are not there yet.”
What were approved were the descriptions of three scenarios required by the state:
Full reopening of schools at 100-percent in-person capacity.
Full closing of schools with 100-percent virtual, remote learning.
A hybrid model that combines aspects of remote learning and socially distant, in-person learning.
Of particular concern, Low said, are challenges presented at the high school where a recent study from South Korea has shown older students are similar to adults in their susceptibility to and transmission of COVID-19.
“We’re going to push back a little bit,” Low said of the district’s response to the state. The cover letter, which accompanies the descriptions of the three scenarios as developed so far, says the board “will examine which scenario best matches student health and safety needs at each individual school. We do not want to assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
In addition, the letter says, looking at each school separately would allow for a phased-in or ramped-up approach when feasible.
The sense is that it would be beneficial to start slowly at the high school. One reason is the high school does not allow for the formation of cohort groups that can be self-contained throughout the day, as they can in the lower grades.
“That’s a mitigation strategy taken off the table,” Low said.
“We want to push back early on the state and not instantly assume a full open for the entire district because that’s what the state wants,” she said. “If we want to take health and safety seriously, then I think it makes sense to break our district down by school and look at which scenario fits the best.”
Smith shared the document that outlined:
Implementation of health and safety measures for students and staff.
How social and emotional well-being of students and staff will be addressed.
Regular and emergency communication plans, including a new district email — firstname.lastname@example.org — which is dedicated to COVID-related matters.
Use of the Schoology course management platform.
Smith presented slides of the entire plan, which can be viewed online.
A few aspects that Smith outlined in particular included:
Methods for social distancing, including cohorting students in the lower grades, not using lockers, having younger children eat their lunch in their classrooms, and configuring foot-traffic flow in schools.
Transportation changes, specifically adjustment of arrival and dismissal times to accommodate the vast majority of parents planning to drive their children to and from school.
Creation of isolation rooms in each school in the event a student presents symptoms of COVID-19.
One scenario that is not nailed down is the hybrid learning model. Smith said Wilton, like many other districts, is exploring two options. One would have one group of students come in on Monday and Tuesday and another on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be set aside for sanitizing buildings and remote learning.
The other plan would have students come in on alternating weeks and learning remotely on their weeks off.
Smith took a moment to address the community at large.
“We all have a shared responsibility in keeping the schools open,” he said. Referencing virus prevention guidelines issued by the state, he said, “As a community, all of us, parents, students, other community members, we really need to take those mitigation strategies seriously so we continue to reduce the spread.”
One culture change that needs to take place, Smith said is that any student or staff member who doesn’t feel well “even a little bit, they need to stay home.”
As for state travel quarantines, Smith advised people to look at their travel plans in light of the school start calendar, particularly if they are traveling to a state on Connecticut’s mandatory 14-day quarantine list.
The 2020-21 calendar previously indicated school would begin on Aug. 26. The board approved making Aug. 26, 27, and 28 half-days. Those half-days would be spread across all schools so groups of students would cycle through for one half-day only. The rest of the time would be dedicated for teacher training.
Students would return full-time on Aug. 31.
All other aspects of the calendar remained unchanged.
The board’s next virtual meeting is planned for 7 p.m. on July 30.