Transitioning all New Canaan Public Schools students back into full in-person learning from 50% to 75% and, this week, 100%, has been helpful in getting students, families and staff accustomed to strategies designed to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 virus, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said Monday night.
So far this week, officials have received very good reports on the return of New Canaan High School seniors to 100% in-person learning “and we anticipate the same for our juniors and then our ninth- and tenth-graders on Wednesday,” according to Luizzi.
“It does mean when there are positive cases there are likely to be more quarantines, because of the balance between running at full capacity and maintaining that social distance of six feet, people understand that,” he said during a regular meeting of the Board of Education, held via videoconference.
“When I sent out the announcements about bringing back the seniors and phasing everybody back in, that same day we had a positive case at Saxe and a positive case at one of our elementaries, and we had to quarantine a classroom at the elementary and a team at Saxe for a period of time. That’s the reality of the world we are in. So we have the great news about bringing those kids back. But we also just have to be grounded in the reality that when a positive case arises, we are still using those mitigation strategies.”
The comments came during Luizzi’s regular update on COVID-19 and the schools, whose buildings had been closed almost exactly one year earlier as the pandemic set in. NCHS seniors returned Friday to 100% in-person learning, with juniors and underclassmen following this week.
“So after Thursday this week we will be at pre-K 12 at 100% in the building,” Luizzi said. “Now we do still have some remote learners, temporary remote learners, and some sort of committed, not temporary full-time remote learners. But for the most part, we are running at last check was low-90% of students participating in person.”
According to state Department of Public Health data released Tuesday, New Canaan has had 1,147 cumulative cases of COVID-19 virus—up eight from the prior day—as well as 98 probable cases and 40 deaths. The school district in its continuously updated operations guide was reporting Tuesday afternoon that a total of 11 public schools students were in quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus, as well as two staff members, while another 87 students and nine staff members were in quarantine due to close contact with a positive case.
During the Board of Ed meeting, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jill Correnty provided an update on the professional learning sessions that staff and administrators have undergone—in part on Wednesday afternoons, which are half-days for students—and East School Principal Kris Woleck and Assistant Principal Maura Fruin presented on how the school has operated during the pandemic.
Luizzi said that to help strengthen mitigation strategies, the district is “continuing with our co-horting of students in K-8 and we are looking for opportunities to loosen up a little bit.”
“For instance, in [visual and performing arts], some of the rules are changing based on some research about distance for students when they’re playing certain instruments and things like that,” he said. “The addendums are changing a bit, we are looking at our practice, we are looking at bringing kids into the gym for a period of time for PE class at the elementary, and moving them back to classrooms. Things like that. So we are continually reassessing and evaluating what is happening, yet still grounding our decisions in the science and best practices.”
Some have asked about the district’s half-day Wednesdays, he said, which are “an important dimension to the whole system that we have in place.”
“Recognizing that it can be challenging for some of our families with the youngest students, our principals and others are looking at and talking about ways that we can put together some programming for students and families that are interested, to run in the afternoons on those half-days right after school for some students,” he said. “We have some possible ways to supervise those with some non-certified staff and to do some creative things. So we are working on a plan around that and we’ll get that out to you soon. Because at this point, we do anticipate maintaining the half-day Wednesdays, certainly through March and April if not through to the end of the [school] year.”