The state on Monday released more detailed guidance on how individual school districts should prepare for the academic year that commences this fall. Based on that guidance, we put some questions to New Canaan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi. Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: Clearly, we don’t know what the public health data will say come Aug. 31, the scheduled first day of school. So we can’t exactly plan for a reopening in any definitive way now. That said, what is your read on how things are going and what we might be looking at?
Dr. Bryan Luizzi: Currently, the steps we have taken in Connecticut appear to have served us well, and we should all be proud of our collective efforts these past months. If the public health metrics remain positive through July and August, and we hope it does, we are excited about the possibility of a full reopening of all of our schools. However, as is often said, hope is not a strategy, and we are committed to preparing for all possible scenarios to ensure we’re ready to provide a safe, relevant, meaningful, and memorable experience for every one of our students. We’ll be developing various scenarios in preparation for the fall—a full reopening, a hybrid reopening, and a remote learning reopening—just to ensure we’re prepared.
What can you share, if anything, about the preference among school families to have their children learn from home?
The governor’s plan enables families to choose between learning in the classroom and learning from home; and, as we are in a pandemic, we certainly understand and respect any family’s decision to learn from home if that is their preference. We are currently developing an instructional model that would provide for “live streaming” from our classrooms to students’ homes, which will replicate the in-classroom experience wherever possible. We envision a system where students are expected to be “live” online each day at specific times (when classes are in session), where attendance is taken, and where information and materials flow between classrooms and homes through a learning management platform such as Schoology or Google Classroom.
A partial reopening seems like a possibility. If that’s what happens, the state’s guidance calls for prioritization of “vulnerable learner groups” in terms of who comes back for in-person learning first. What is your understanding of what that term means?
As I understand from the governor’s guidance, vulnerable learners include students with disabilities who are currently receiving services under IDEA in our Special Education program, students who are currently receiving services in our English Language Learner program, and other vulnerable learners that have been identified by the district due to emotional, physical, and/or other challenges.
The guidance from the state calls for a review of building space, such as gyms and auditoriums, to “maximize social distancing,” as needed. The high has some big spaces like that, though no limitless spaces. What are we looking at, as far as that new use of facilities goes?
At this point, we are looking at each individual classroom to establish the best ways to maximize social distancing. If our review turns up the need to repurpose spaces, we will look at the libraries, auditoriums, and other large meeting areas to determine if they are appropriate for classroom spaces. Additionally, we are taking a close look at the opportunities our courtyards and fields may offer as classroom spaces, especially since research is showing that being outside may provide another layer of protection.
The guidance calls for wearing masks at all times while inside the school buildings. What happens at lunch?
At this point, we are still working on our plan for lunch. As those of us who have accidentally tried it know, you just can’t eat and wear a mask at the same time. In our planning, we are considering the possibility of students eating in their classrooms, staggering lunch shifts, and providing for increased social distancing when multiple classes are in the cafeteria simultaneously.
What is your message to the school community?
We are pleased that the governor and commissioner have developed a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff while also providing districts the agency and flexibility to problem-solve based on their own local conditions. Our administrators and Board of Education have been working on reopening plans for the past several months. Now that we know the governor’s requirements, we look forward to continuing to partner with the community as we finalize and implement our plans for the new school year. Whether we are fully in-school, in a hybrid model, or in a remote learning environment, we are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to provide our students with the world-class educational experiences they have come to expect from the New Canaan Public Schools.