Summer break will be a few days longer for area students as districts delay the first day of school to give teachers a few extra days to prepare for a return to in-person classes during the pandemic.
The school boards in Cheshire and Wallingford have moved the first day of school to early September to comply with a state requirement that teachers receive extra days of professional development before returning to the classroom. Cheshire students are set to return Sept. 8, while Wallingford students are scheduled to return on Sept. 3.
“I think from a strictly medical data perspective, we’d love to go as early as we can,” said Cheshire School Superintendent Jeff Solan, “ … but from the logistical temperatures of the building and mask compliance, as well as more professional development for our staff, we’re pushing it back.”
Not all Cheshire students will be in school on Sept. 8, however, since the district is opening with a hybrid model for the first three days. One-third of each school’s students will be in attendance each day based on their last name. During those first few days, students will have to learn about precautions like mask-wearing and hand-washing along with changes to the school layout.
“It doesn't matter if you're transitioning into a new building or not, all of these things are new to our students,” he said.
School boards in Meriden and Southington are set to vote on moving the first day of school back as well. A draft calendar calls for students to return for half days on Sept. 3 and 4 in Meriden.
Southington School Superintendent Timothy Connellan said the school board will meet on August 13 to consider a plan to hold three orientation days for students on Sept. 8, 9 and 10 and have Sept. 11 as the first full day of classes.
“The idea is to ease students and staff into the new routines and procedures of our ‘new temporary normal’ and allow some time to assess and adjust as necessary,” he said.
During a Wallingford Board of Education meeting last week, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said local districts are still receiving guidance and requirements from the state about reopening schools. He feels giving teachers a few more days to prepare will allow them to be ready for any of the contingencies that may come up throughout the year.
“We do not believe that starting on (Aug. 31) would benefit our staff at all levels in order to make the best scenario available for our students and staff on the first day of school,” he said.
Solan said the majority of the professional development days will be used to help teachers learn assessment and instruction under the new system. There will also be technology training and time spent on the logistics of school days.
The district is outfitting some classrooms with cameras and microphones so teachers can get as close to an in-classroom experience as possible for families who have opted for voluntary virtual learning. The administration is also considering opening Cheshire High School under a hybrid model, where the student body will be split up and rotate between classroom and remote learning.
“I think they're pretty critically important,” Solan said of the extra professional development days. “We're asking teachers to teach like we would otherwise never ask them to. I think it's critically important that we have close alignment between teachers in the content areas.”