CHESHIRE – The school district is preparing for a full return of students and teachers to the classroom this fall.
However, as School Superintendent Jeffrey Solan said during a special remote meeting of the Board of Education Tuesday night, district officials are developing a plan for a hybrid in-person and remote learning should the state allow school districts to exercise that option. The current state executive order allowing remote learning expires in early September.
At the same time, the district is preparing a return plan that would provide personal protective equipment — including cloth masks — for students and teachers. The district would also increase the amount of hand sanitizer available, including hands-free dispensers.
Other steps include increased disinfecting and sanitizing of common areas and restrooms and replacing air filters in air handling units with filters capable of capturing small particles.
District Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana said 2,000 16-ounce containers of hand sanitizer have been ordered.
“We feel confident about hand sanitizer,” he said.
Other items, like disinfectant wipes, have been more problematic.
“The price gouging is ridiculous,” he said.
Over 88 percent of the families who responded to a two-question survey indicated they preferred a full return to school, over remote learning, Solan said.
School districts are required to submit reopening plans to the state by July 24.
“Because things evolve so quickly,” Solan said, “... this is going to have to be flexible. Our goal remains to educate people to the greatest extent possible in a manner that is the safest.”
Only one school building — Highland Elementary School — is fully air conditioned, so if temperatures in some classrooms were too hot to allow for comfort early into the school year, officials are not ruling out the possibility of early dismissals or remote learning.
In the elementary schools, the town plans to mirror state guidelines, which call for cohorting students as much as possible. Cohorting becomes more difficult to maintain in middle school and high school.
Solan acknowledged other concerns, including transportation and school lunch periods. The district is trying to increase the number of lunch waves in middle and high school — “to spread students out to the extent possible,” he said.
The district is exploring having elementary students potentially eat in classrooms instead of common areas so students can remain with their cohort with masks off.
Solan said district leaders are trying to work through those details.
“I can't say we have... every detail down yet,” he said, adding that leaders are working with the local health department, cafeteria staff and principals.
Meanwhile, the use of school buildings by community groups would be limited for now.
Solan said one of the challenges is a shortage of rapid testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It takes at least seven to 10 days to receive test results, according to Solan.