WALLINGFORD — School administrators are preparing for reopening by finalizing multiple plans that cover students returning to the classroom and a possible resumption of distance learning.
The course the schools take depends on coronavirus transmission rates in the coming weeks.
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said if transmission remains at its current, relatively low rate, students will be able to physically return to schools. The reopening plan also contains contingencies for distance learning and a hybrid of in-school and distance learning should the transmission rate escalate.
“An educator without children in front of him or her really doesn’t have a job that they can do effectively,” Menzo said in a Wednesday video announcing the release of the reopening plan draft. “So we want to see your children, but we also know that we have to do this on your terms, because they are special individuals in your family.”
Under the low transmission plan, students will return to classrooms with reduced capacity, largely capped at 25 students per room. They will have to wear masks at all times, outside designated breaks, possibly including lunch, recess, physical education, and outdoor classes. If a student forgets a mask, they will be available on busses and in schools.
School days have been rescheduled to limit interaction throughout the day. Elementary and middle school students will largely remain with their homeroom class every day. Class transitions will be arranged to reduce the number of students in the halls at once. Desks will be spaced out and shared tables will have barriers installed.
Under the plan, it will cost $2.1 million for additional teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus monitors and cafeteria aides.
If a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19, the entire class will be quarantined at home for two weeks and the classroom and associated common areas will be disinfected. The same is true if a bus driver or rider tests positive.
Distance learning will be available for students in quarantine and will be offered to families who are uncomfortable with children physically returning to school.
“In the end we are here to support you, you are part of our family, we want to make sure you know we will be here no matter if your child joins us physically in the fall or joins us later in the school year,” Menzo said. “It is a difficult decision, your child’s safety and your family’s safety should be your number one concern. We are trying to do everything in our effort to make sure as many students feel comfortable.”
Spread of virus could prompt return partial or full school closings
If virus transmission rates escalate to a moderate intensity, schools will adopt a hybrid model where students will be in school for two days a week and receive online instruction the other three days. Schools will be divided into two groups, one of which will be physically present Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other will come in on Thursdays and Fridays.
There will also be restrictions on students congregating in the buildings. Indoor extracurricular activities will be suspended and outdoor activities, including sports, may have restrictions.
A high transmission rate would return students entirely to online instruction. Menzo said the district is looking to incorporate lessons educators learned about distance learning in the spring.
District seeking student and family input on plan
Feedback is still being solicited on the draft and the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday July 22, just ahead of the state’s July 24 deadline for receiving reopening plans from local school districts.
“The important thing is clearly the health and safety of our students and staff. I think that's paramount in everyone's mind that we provide a safe learning environment,” said Board of Education Chairperson Karen Hlavac, who was one of over 100 people that worked on the plan.
She feels the plan addresses the different needs of students across grade levels.
“I was happy to see that there were considerations made depending on what level, because you have different developmental levels of students,” Hlavac said.
Links to fill out feedback forms are included in the reopening plan. Menzo said the district has received over 4,000 responses thus far. It is also collaborating with Cheshire, Meriden and Southington to find best practices for local communities.