MERIDEN — The city’s plan to open schools this fall includes provisions for 10 additional teachers, three more school buses and 32,000 disposable face masks for students.
The plan, which incorporates social distancing and an increased disinfecting and sanitizing schedule, will cost $2.3 million school officials told members of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee this week.
“This is a fluid situation,” said School Superintendent Mark Benigni. “Things continue to change based on health data. This is the best plan we have at this point in time. We can’t answer all the questions. We can answer some of those other questions as time goes on.”
School officials will file the plan and an application for funding under the CARES Act grant to the state Department of Education before the July 24 deadline. Finance Committee members voted to recommend the funding request during a virtual meeting on Tuesday. The grant is for one year.
A significant unknown is how many families will elect not to send children to school and opt for distance learning, Benigni said. The school has loosely surveyed parents to get a rough estimate of class sizes, bus routes, and teachers needed but firmer commitments are needed before fall. The two choices now for families are to send children back to school or practice distance learning, Benigni said. There is no hybrid plan incorporating aspects of both at this time.
The plan includes a new position to provide social-emotional support at $120,000, and 10 teachers at $700,000 to minimize class sizes. These positions are for one-year only, said Assistant Superintendent Michael Grove.
“Space is one of biggest needs at our elementary and middle schools,” Board of Education President Robert Koskienski Jr. said before asking administrators how the district intends to minimize class sizes. “It’s important that people know this isn’t the ideal plan. Our goal is to return to school the most normal way possible. This does that.”
Kosienski cautioned parents about relying on social media for information, but to seek out board members, or school officials for answers.
Class sizes will be reduced to 23 students by using spaces such as band classrooms, auditoriums, and other rooms and cohorting students into groups. For instance, in a music class, the instructor may be on the stage while the students practice six feet apart in the auditorium. Unnecessary furniture will be removed to to allow the desks to be six feet apart.
The finance board also agreed to put the extended day program at John Barry Elementary School on hold for the year to save $300,000, and negate the need for additional expenses to extend the public health guidelines an additional 90 minutes. The extended day program offers eight hours of academic curriculum and enrichment activities per week.
The $2.3 million cost to reopen will be voted on by the full Board of Education next week.