If health data supports it, New Canaan Public Schools will aim to allow students to attend all classes in-person in early October, district officials said Monday.
School will look different at that time, officials said during a regular meeting of the Board of Education, held via videoconference. For example, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said, those in school will be wearing masks and observing physical distancing, hallways will be marked one-way, classrooms will be assigned designated bathrooms, visitors will be prohibited and all assemblies will be held virtually.
Though Fairfield County has what health officials are calling “low community spread” of COVID-19 virus—meaning the state is allowing local districts to fully reopen with in-person learning—the first several weeks of the upcoming academic year will be spent re-acclimating students and parents, as well as teachers and faculty, to the changed environment, officials said.
Available here in a continuously updated operations guide, the four-phase plan is geared toward the school community’s “on-boarding and reengagement,” Luizzi said.
“The ultimate destination is for us to get to the full-in low community involvement scenario,” he said. “But as we thought about things and really considered all the variables, [we] felt that just bringing in everybody all at once just didn’t make a lot of sense. There is an awful lot that has to occur, both to re- acclimate and to teach what folks need to learn in order to implement these mitigation strategies.”
While kindergarten is divided into morning and afternoon sessions for the first month-plus of this academic year, students in grades one through 12 will be divided into two “cohorts” that attend in-person two days per week and learn from home two other days, as well as a half-day on Wednesday, under the plan (with teachers getting professional learning of the balance of Wednesdays during the first part of the school year).
Should health data and state guidance allow it, then starting Sept. 21, kindergarten through grade four will transition to 100% in-person learning, under the plan, with Saxe Middle School (Sept. 29) and New Canaan High School (Oct. 5) to follow. The plan is subject to change, depending on the prevalence of COVID-19 virus and guidance from state and local health officials.
“We are not opening in a ‘hybrid,’ so to speak,” Luizzi said. “What we are doing is, we developed an on-boarding plan that gets us to where we want to be—which is to have 100% of our students in school—and to make sure that we do it safely and focus on everyone’s wellbeing.”
Public school buildings closed March 12 amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, and the district launched an e-learning program. Instead of holding the traditional ceremony at Dunning Stadium, the New Canaan High School class of 2020 celebrated its graduation milestone with a parade that drew thousands of onlookers. Luizzi has kept the school community updated on plans for the upcoming academic year as new guidance has come down from the state through the summer, culminating in the online operations guide called “Charting Our Course.”
Board of Ed members asked whether families can self-select for full remote learning (yes), whether they’ll receive online instruction on how that works (yes), whether it would include tapping into a livestream of the classroom (yes), whether all grade levels will have no school Sept. 4 for a professional learning day (yes), whether parents will have opportunities between now and the first day of school to hear presentations on how the start of the academic year will work, including the remote learning (yes), whether the cohort model is coming from a desire to assess the presence of the virus as school families return from traveling (in part), whether a change in community spread would lead to a change in the school model (yes it’s assessed continuously), what will happen if a student has symptoms of coronavirus disease or tests positive (it’s in the document), how busing will work (there’ll be an extra run to bring the morning session kindergartners home), whether hand driers are being removed from the bathrooms (yes the towel dispensers are back) and whether there’s any decision yet on sports (a committee recommended to state officials Monday to move football to the spring).
Board of Ed member Sheri West asked about enforcement of the mask requirement.
Luizzi said he was on a call with a group of statewide epidemiologists whose position is that “there is no counter indication for mask-wearing.”
“If a student is not well enough to wear a mask, then it is highly probable that student is not well enough to be in school,” Luizzi said. “The exception being very few of our students with significant sensory issues. So this our expectation that alls students and staff will be wearing masks in school. It is also the state’s expectation, that everybody will be doing that. It’s part of our teaching in the very beginning, is to help people understand that wearing a mask protects them and protects others. And it’s a very important mitigation strategy, as you layer one [strategy] on top of the other. And the state has found that students are able to do this. In summer programs that have occurred around the state, they were required to wear masks throughout the course of the day, and they did, and they were OK with that. We are thinking a lot about mask breaks, and those things are talked about, but it’s an expectation. And the state, I am hoping, anticipating that they will come out with guidance that essentially says the same as what I just said, that if they are not well enough to wear a mask then they are very likely not well enough to be in school.”
[Editor’s Note: A reference to high school football has been clarified to reflect the recommendation of a committee.]