By Mary Ellen Godin and Devin Leith-Yessian
Schools will be closed in Meriden, Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire for two weeks as a precaution due to the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday.
Meriden and Wallingford are closed effective Friday. Cheshire will dismiss students early on Friday. Southington schools will be closed starting Monday.
“This will allow us the opportunity to educate our students about the purpose of this break...distribute learning toolkits (K-3), and Chromebooks as needed (4-12),” Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan said in a letter to parents. “This will also allow our students the opportunity to collect any belongings they may need.”
Wallingford School Superintendent Sal Menzo said he understands the decision to close schools poses a burden for parents who must quickly find child care.
The closures include “all before school, after school, sporting events/practices, and extracurricular activities,” as well as adult education, Menzo wrote in a letter to parents Thursday afternoon. All schools and buses will be thoroughly cleaned prior to re-opening on March 30, he added.
The decision was made after a conference call with superintendents across the state, the state Department of Education and epidemiologists from the state Department of Public Health. Menzo said superintendents were advised to be cognizant of how many students congregate when schools are in session.
“Several superintendents asked questions about if it was prudent to have students in school,” Menzo said.
“Like most districts in Connecticut, we are following the unwavering recommendation of health officials to close schools for an extended period,” Solan said in his letter to parents. “These are unprecedented times for our community that seem to be out of a science-fiction novel. Yet, the circumstances could not be more real. I strongly encourage you to heed the guidance of our health community.”
Earlier in the day, Meriden Board of Education President Robert Kosienski noted that districts across Connecticut have announced closures and that Meriden was looking to the state for guidance.
“Right now everything is very fluid and we’re going to be looking to the Department of Public Health and the governor’s office for guidance,” he said.
Thomas Edison Magnet Middle School in Meriden will be closed Friday, according to Area Cooperative Education Services, which manages the school. ACES did not announce any extended closures.
"The closure includes all activities including athletics, extra-curricular activities, student clubs, etc,” Southington Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan said in a letter to parents. “At this time, we anticipate that schools will reopen Monday March 30th unless additional information dictates another course of action. Obviously, there are many unknowns right now and we will continue to gather information and to update you on a regular basis."
Meriden students at all grade levels received instructional packets with printed assignments and directions on how to access online materials based on a student’s grade and the subject matter. All city middle and high school students have Chromebooks they take home on a regular basis.
“We are in the process of sharing information with families and posting the documents online,” said Barbara Haeffner, director of teaching and innovation for Meriden Public Schools before the closure was announced. “Today, students in our elementary schools were provided paper-based learning packets that included activities for students to work on while learning has been interrupted. These activities are grade-level appropriate and cover ELA, Math, and Science.”
Maloney High School Principal Jennifer Straub sent a note home to parents letting them know a school closure decision could be imminent.
“In the event the Meriden Public Schools should close, students should continue education at home,” Straub wrote.
School districts in the southwestern part of the state have also closed schools, and some as close as Hamden announced school closures.
Wallingford opted to forgo paper packets due to the fluidity of the situation and to allow staff to focus on instruction, Menzo said.
“We set up a Google Doc with activities for students starting in Pre-K all the way up to (grade) 12,” he said, adding that the materials are already online.
Following recommendations from the state during the conference call, the supplemental materials are not required to be completed, however, Menzo said he will be sending emails to families encouraging them to stay on top of the curriculum.
“Being home for two weeks we’d like for students to participate,” he said.
Wallingford’s Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for Monday at 6 p.m. to consider changes to the calendar to accommodate the cancellations, Menzo said. School administration will also be closely reviewing the number of days teachers are contractually obligated to work.
During Thursday afternoon’s conference call, districts were told that not canceling April vacation will not count against applications for a waiver to drop below the state-mandated 180 days of instructional days they’re required to provide students.
“There might be a benefit to having April vacation or part of April vacation,” Menzo said. “… It’s several weeks out, we don’t know what will be the climate in terms of the virus.”
Gov. Ned Lamont loosened that requirement in an order signed Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reported, giving districts more flexibility to cancel classes. The order also barred gatherings of 250 or more people.
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